The Oncologist Part Two

Kidderminster TC

 

This is where I saw the Oncologist yesterday. It’s where I spent hours (around 70 in total) rigged up to a pump receiving chemicals that come with large biohazard symbols all over them.  Getting close-up and personal with something covered in that particular symbol is great for building risk tolerance, almost akin to lighting matches at the petrol pump or playing Russian roulette.  Cancer is very much like Russian roulette – a potentially lethal game of chance – and although I know the those hazardous chemicals are designed to change the odds, seeing something marked biohazard enter a vein can never be anything other than disconcerting.

I dutifully completed my Persephone trial questionnaire reporting overall improvements in general health, no change in joint pain, continued loss of earnings compared to the pre-cancer days and relatively normal cognitive functioning, so long as I’m not tired.  My height was checked: this always makes me laugh because at my age there is no chance of further vertical growth and only a slight chance of noticeable shrinkage.  My weight was checked: this never makes me laugh because in spite of very regular exercise, healthy eating, plenty of water and a near zero alcohol diet there is still plenty of potential for horizontal growth and only a remote chance of microscopic shrinkage.  Stick thin are words that are unlikely to enter my vocabulary any time soon.

The Oncologist came out of his office to find me, which was unusual because he’s normally too busy to move. After the usual questions we proceeded to the examination which includes tapping over the liver, various prodding of the neck and chest and visual inspection.  All seems well so we proceeded to a conversation about ongoing joint issues – both knees, both ankles and right-hand fingers.  For a long time I have suspected these are all treatment related irrecoverable side-effects. Yesterday the Oncologist confirmed my diagnosis and acknowledged my underlying suspicion that any further improvement is unlikely to occur.  I had prepared for this eventuality; the joint situation is annoying, frustrating and often painful but at least it isn’t cancer. Having its permanence officially confirmed was too good an opportunity to miss so I asked the Oncologist in my most serious tone how I could possibly be expected to climb Kilimanjaro and then run a naked marathon next Spring.  This had the desired effect of making him laugh and put Sally the trials nurse into an uncontrollable fit of the giggles.

Once we all returned to cancer clinic stoicism I asked about the outstanding preventive surgery, described my family history as prolific, aka develop one get five free, and as we all die before age 50 it’s positively infuriating because none of us get to see the paltry pensions we worked like slaves not to have. It may be gallows humour but for my unfortunate predecessors  it’s also true. This made the Oncologist laugh, Sally hadn’t fully recovered from the naked marathon and two laughs in one appointment is quite an achievement. After confirming I’d given it plenty of consideration, know exactly what more surgery entails and have no fear (psychological or physical) about it, the Oncologist and Sally agreed they are both of the mind that it’s a very good idea and unlikely to fall into the over-treatment category in my case. A consultation with the oncoplastic surgeon will be arranged shortly…

All in all the visit was successful. No sign of anything untoward – check. Confirmation that treatment, not age, is responsible for various joint mayhem – check. Validation of my position on the outstanding surgery – check. Making the Oncologist laugh – check, twice 🙂 .

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Happy Shopping

I was on my way back from the dentists when I saw a strange sight.  I live in a rural area so really shouldn’t be surprised by these things but they do make me laugh.  I’m not sure if this fella is going in to buy some stamps, collect his pension or check his Euromillions lottery numbers.  I think he’ll fit through the doorway (but there won’t be much room with him inside!)

Let me in

In other news, the visit to Dr C. today was positive.  He says I’m on ‘maintenance herceptin’ from here on so it’s more a preventative kind of approach rather than treating any malingering disease – chemo should’ve taken care of that.  It’s the best outcome I could have expected from today and now I just have to be vigilant and look out for any signs of changes or things that feel different.  When you have a replacement boob made of silicon sitting beneath a layer of pig intestine covered by a couple of millimetres of your own flesh, things feel different every day. Apparently I will notice if there’s any change and I suspect having been on the breast cancer merry-go-round once, I’ll be even more aware of strange dimples, bumps or lumps. It’s hard not to be completely paranoid about every tiny thing but hopefully with time that feeling will pass.

I may be off-line for a few days.  Tomorrow my son moves into his new flat.  Compared to his 6ft x 9ft student hovel in a shared house that really ought to be gutted and thoroughly overhauled, the flat will seem like the Palace of Versailles.  The carpet won’t be sticky either. I’ve never been a fan of sticky carpets… how is it possible to make a carpet stickier than Krazy Glue and worse still, why leave it that way and expect the tenant to put up with it?  Bizarre.    This weekend I’ll be turning my hand to home furnishings and the wonders of flat-pack furniture instructions.  My son has also asked me to take him shopping  in between his 11 a-side football match and his futsal match.  With so much going on I just hope I can still keep up with the pace!

 

Winter sunshine and awakenings

Hanley

This is a photo from a couple of weeks ago, prior to our recent heavy snowfall.  The snow lasted about ten days before being washed away and now we have more weather warnings, this time for gale force winds and torrential rain.   I can hear the wind howling around outside and blowing down the chimney – no doubt when I wake up tomorrow there will be fallen trees and broken branches.

In spite of the inclement weather we are gradually beginning to see the shoots of new life.  The little Snowdrops below are growing at the base of a very old grave in my local churchyard.

P1000412

I love Snowdrops, their tiny nodding flowers hang above tufts of small sword-like leaves and over time they form banks of pristine loveliness along the hedgerows, at the bottom of tress and through the woods.  I also love the churchyard because it’s peaceful and there are 180° views for as far as the eye can see.

Although the church is pretty, it’s seldom used.  The graves in the graveyard commemorate the lives of people who died at the beginning of the last century; they are all well tended but no one goes to visit them any more.  I often wonder what stories those people would be able to tell me from their lives during the Romantic Era. I also wonder what they would make of me with my none too lady-like hiking boots, jeans, sweater and raincoat.  It’s so rural here the chances are they would think I’m a witch and cart me off to the local dunking pond.  If they found out I was reviewing a report on the progression of antibiotic resistant infections and cytokine storm first thing this morning followed by a day of conference calls about technology, budgets and globalisation I would be building my own bonfire by now!

Suffice to say just like the Snowdrops breaking out from hibernation, I am starting to feel a little more alive and awake.  I may look like some demented science experiment where the mad professor (Bunsen Honeydew strikes again) decided to make a new kind of animal by taking bits of human, armadillo, snake, naked mole rat and pig but at least I’m beginning to feel like a person once more.

I think I have been lucky.  I haven’t lost any finger or toe nails, my hair seems to be coming back the same colour as before, I don’t have permanent peripheral neuropathy and as far as I know my heart is still OK.  There’s a chance I might get an A for effort when I see Dr C this week and an E for compliant behaviour… I still encourage all the other patients to speak up about their side-effects instead of suffering in silence and to carefully check the expiry dates and dosages on their drugs.

Ascent Complete!

Ascent CompleteSnow 0 Tracy 6

Ascent Complete
Snow 0 Tracy 6

That’s it. FEC-T is over. Everest has been ascended in flip-flops and a sarong – entirely inappropriate attire but it was all I had on me at the time so I had to make the most of it.

It was snowing this morning and had snowed all night. My handsome prince was a no-show so I guess he accepted the crone’s apple!  I managed to stay awake all night thanks to dexamethasone.

Fortunately the journey to chemo camp involved traversing sparkling powder snow but at 8.30am it wasn’t too treacherous. By 1.30pm the situation had moved on.  I’m glad the journey home wasn’t later in the day as it wouldn’t have been feasible; folks had already abandoned cars in many areas.

Snow didn’t defeat me today and I’m happy about that but above all else I’m so glad the chemo part of this adventure is over. Bye-bye FEC-T hello return to normality.

The journey, however, is not yet complete.  I still have to master the descent to base camp via successful completion of the Persephone herceptin trial plus some further surgeries. I’ll make a date with Miss M (oncoplastic surgeon) and Mr Ch (gynae specialist) so they can extricate the remaining female parts of my anatomy during 2013.  Miss M will create a new silicon masterpiece matching the one she gave me last August. With up to a 90% reduction in the risk of further sinister developments in my presently human left side, this is a surgery with ‘do it’ stamped all over it.  Mr Ch has offered additional risk reducing surgery via removal of bits and bobs that are likely to go wrong – ovaries and tubes!

Unfortunately breast and ovarian cancer mounted a dual assault on my ancestors decimating them all at an early. Miss M, Mr Ch and my own GP all recommend these additional surgeries to improve my odds.  For my part I intend to do as much as possible to avoid another tango with a small dark stranger who isn’t handsome, charming or in any way a pleasure to dance with.  For me, more surgery is less daunting than the prospect of early recurrence/metastasis; HER2 positive breast cancer is renowned for these traits.

I know surgery isn’t a silver bullet but I will know in my heart I did everything possible to keep the stalker of evil intent at bay.  For now though I can’t get too excited about my Everest descent because I have to deal with a huge parcel of drugs plus a bright yellow sharps box designed to see me through the aftermath of TH-3.  I’m adverse to drugs especially when copious quantities are involved; the weather and my dangerously high temperature incident a few weeks ago have changed my mind just this once.  I can’t afford to be snowed in with neutropenia because the emergency services can’t get here at the moment. Dying of neutropenic sepsis will never be on my to do list, so I’m having BONC.   (N.B. this is not to be confused with having ‘a bonk’).

BONC includes dexamethasone, the insomnia inducing beet steroid that turns me into an overgrown version of the Ready Brek Kid complete with deep Beetroot coloured glow visible from c.3 miles away 🙂 . Ondansetron to combat sickness.  11 days of Ciprofloxacin (preventative antibiotics) and 5 days of Neupogen injections that I’ll self-administer.  Neupogen forces the bone marrow to produce neutrophil precursors, a very good thing following Taxotere. The downside is that it can cause pain inside bones, especially long bones and the sternum.  As ever I’m hopeful any side-effects will be minimally disruptive.

Nurse L (one of the loveliest people on our planet) said my return to normality will begin very soon now… I can expect to see some hair putting in an appearance. This will be weird. I’ve finally become accustomed to the bald cone-head look though I find it very chilly.  I’ve been tempted to borrow Elizabeth’s rain hat, complete with its warm ear flaps but I don’t trust UK customs officials to get it here undamaged. So the sooner my hair decides to show up the better and I don’t care what colour or texture it is, I’ll be fine with anything that delivers a nice warm feeling in the upper head region 🙂

One final word before I sign off. To everyone out there faced with an aggressive breast cancer diagnosis, a conversation that says it’s treatable (not curable) and what seems to be a very long, daunting and arduous journey ahead, please know that you can do this.  I’m not going to say it’s easy or enjoyable but equally it is not the end of the world.  You can get through it and you can take your life back – whether it’s many years or a  few months it is still your time. Cancer cannot be allowed to ruin it.  As my dear friend Kozo (call in on him at Everyday Gurus) advises, this applies to many of the adverse situations we face in life, it is not restricted to the uninvited stranger that began stalking me with evil intent last May. So please don’t forget, you can do this.

Chinese New Year and the Rooster

In just under a month’s time it will be Chinese New Year (10th February).  According to the Chinese horoscope, roosters like me can have great achievements in 2013 and overall it can be a smooth year.  I like the sound of that, a smooth year is just the kind of year I’d enjoy.

roosters
Career-wise it’s predicted to be a year when promotion is possible but I’m not really sure about this one. I’ve worked and studied for a very long time to achieve my present post, I enjoy the work but the nature of the role and the people I work with have always been more important than status or title.  Those things are just words, they have no real meaning.

On the wealth front, investing in children’s study is suggested to be productive and that’s a good thing because my son’s study will continue for 5 more years and is undoubtedly a significant investment, financially for us and intellectually for him.  Saving money this year is also highlighted so it’s helpful that being prudent is on my things to do list, just in case of a rainy day.

On the health front it’s said roosters who have chronic diseases will get better this year although they still need to take some regular medicine in case…. In case of what I’m not quite sure but anything that involves getting better sounds good to me.

All in all the Chinese New Year looks quite positive for us rooster folks although I suspect I have more in common with the iron chicken from the Clangers than the glorious Chinese rooster.  For anyone unfamiliar with the Clangers, it was a 1970’s television programme and for several years it was part of my favourite pre-school viewing. I was only five or six years old back then; little mouse-like creatures who found a solution to the various problems they encountered seemed perfectly possible and the fact that they lived on another planet was completely irrelevant.

Clangers are not unlike knitted pink almost hairless mice who live in peace and harmony inside a hollow blue planet far away from Earth. The planet is cratered and looks a bit like the moon.  It has musical trees and is frequently hit by meteors so Clangers live inside the planet and protect themselves by fixing dustbin lids to their burrows.  They communicate by whistling to each other; eat blue string pudding and a green soup collected from volcanic soup wells by their friend the Soup Dragon.

The iron chicken is a bird made of scrap metal who lives in an orbiting nest of metallic junk. One day the Clangers accidentally shoot her down with a firework.  After gathering together all her parts they rebuild her but the iron chicken causes chaos by eating the copper trees, putting her head into the soup well and consuming the Clanger’s blue string pudding.  Before flying back to her nest she lays a metal egg and gives it to the Clangers as a gift.

The iron chicken and I seem to have some uncanny similarities. I’ve often joked that I was put together with sticky tape and string from bits and bobs left over after other people were made.  Last year I was partially rebuilt and this year I’ll be de-constructed and reconstructed again.  From time to time in the last few months I’ve lived on a strange diet and although I haven’t had cause to eat copper or string, green soup has been on the menu more than once.  With any luck my similarities with the iron chicken end there because I don’t fancy being shot down by a stray rocket any time soon even if the Clangers might come along and rebuild me!

CLANGERS-Iron chicken

Bah Humbug to Triskaidekaphobia. 2013 will be a lucky year :-)

Many in the West consider thirteen to be an unlucky number but there’s evidence to suggest 13 is in fact lucky.  2013 will be a lucky year.

A number of people I know deserve much better fortune and I feel our world as a whole could do with a bit of a lift.  So here I offer 13 random examples designed to inspire and illuminate us as we approach 2013.  I apologise for any factual inaccuracies, this is a bit of trivia inspired by a dear friend because we’re aiming to cast off pesky Triskaidekaphobia together and will attempt to do it for anyone else who’d like better luck in future too!

1. The Thirteenth century was very productive for the Italian city of Florence.

Firenze

Firenze (Photo credit: NivesMestrovic)

Its prosperity and peace enabled rapid economic expansion which continued at pace. Various categories of tradesmen and craftspeople increased extensively going beyond their region to other areas.

2. Thirteen is a prime number suggesting an incorruptible nature, purity and integrity.

3. Improv Everywhere organise fun missions to entertain participants, onlookers and those who watch their videos. 

Participants of No Pants Subway ride at Times ...

Participants of No Pants Subway ride at Times Square (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The No Pants Subway Ride takes place on January 13th 2013 in New York and has spread to other cities too. Participants wear winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves but no pants. The aim is to bring excitement to an otherwise humdrum setting, make people laugh, smile, or stop and notice the world around them.  Seeing this would certainly make me smile and spice up an otherwise boring subway ride 🙂

4. The thirteenth tarot card signifies death and eternal life.  The thirteenth rune ‘Eiwaz’ was the central rune around which all the others were ordered in the oldest runic alphabet.

5. When Chinese women make offerings of moon cakes, 13 will be served. Thirteen is the number of blood, fertility and lunar potency, the lucky number of the Great Goddess.

250px-Mooncake

6. Thirteen was revered by the ancient Egyptians who believed life had 13 stages, the last of which was death and transition to eternal life.

7. For those seeking to purchase a property in the UK, number 13 is likely to be £6,511, or 3%, cheaper than numbers 1 -12 or 14 – 30 based on Land Registry figures!

8. Thirteen is considered lucky in China where 1 in the position of tens sounds like ‘definite’ (shi or 实) in Mandarin and Cantonese dialects. 3 sounds like life, living or birth (生) so 13 pronounced shisan in Mandarin can mean ‘definitely vibrant’

9. In the Jewish religion 13 is the numerical value of the word ahava (love, Alef-Hei-Beit-Hei) and the age of responsibility. Jewish beliefs are contained in the Thirteen Principles.

10. The Great Seal of the United States has 13 olive leaves, 13 olives, 13 arrows and 13 stars forming a triangle over the eagle. The pyramid on the reverse has 13 levels.

11. The traditional Thai New Year – Songkran Day –  is April 13th.

English: Songkran at Wat Thai in Los Angeles, ...

12. Lohri, the zenith of winter is celebrated on 13th January. For Punjabis it’s a community celebration of fertility and the spark of life, an auspicious day marking the sun’s entry in to the ‘Makar Rashi’ (northern hemisphere).

lohri

 

13. Jeremy Guscott, Brian O’Driscoll and Frank Bunce are deemed some of the world’s greatest outside centres – position 13 – in rugby union.

Brian O'Driscoll - Happy Day

Brian O’Driscoll – Happy Day (Photo credit: M+MD)

Happy New Year, Happy 2013 everyone ♥

And if you ever saw her, you would even say it glows…..

rudolph1

Rudolphine, lesser-known sister of the famous red-nosed reindeer Rudolph.
(Image: licensed from 123RF.com)

My nose was one of the few parts of my body I thought might be described as “cute.” The rest of me doesn’t fit comfortably with that description, far to many long bones with angular joints.  Think tree frog, lemur (without hair of course) or if I’m having a really bad day, preying mantis.

Credits: wikipedia & Stanford.edu

Credits: Wikipedia & Stanford.edu

Neither too big nor too small, straight and only very slightly upturned at the end, as noses go I think it’s quite a neat looking specimen and functionally until around ten days go it worked just fine too.

Now I fear I may be morphing into Rudolphine, lesser-known sister of Rudolph the very famous red-nosed reindeer. I believe the glow of my rosy nose is due to a new phenomenon I’ve decided to call chemo-luminescence.

Like bioluminescence, chemo-luminescence is caused by chemicals but they aren’t the ones most glowing animals carry around inside their bodies. Mine are derived from taxotere and herceptin.  Unlike bioluminescence, chemo-luminescence has some other effects including, but not limited to:

♦ Symptoms akin to a very heavy cold, e.g. uncontrollable and randomly alternating blocked/runny nose.

♦ Permanent nose bleeds. Not CSI material but all day, every day a slow trickle nose bleed.

♦ Sneezing fits, lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes.

♦ Crusty nose. Yes it is as horrible as it sounds. Most mornings rosy nosey is encrusted with dried blood.  Coupled with unearthly pallor it helps create a very effective impression of a greedy vampire with an inhalation habit.

Nosferatu - he has eyebrows but my teeth are nicer :-)Credit: fanpop.com

Nosferatu – he may have eyebrows but my teeth are nicer 🙂
Credit: fanpop.com

♦ Watering eyes.  A greedy vampire with an inhalation habit and a heavy cold who is quietly crying all the time.  So very attractive.

Even if I resemble him, I don’t think I want to turn into Nosferatu.  I’m too fond of seeing the sun shine.   Being a magical flying reindeer might be fun but Santa won’t hire me 😦 The trickling would give away the location of his secret North Pole workshops!