It seems a long time since I last posted. Getting through each chemotherapy session has been all an encompassing, exhausting and thoroughly unpleasant experience and to write honestly and openly I need to say so, but I am reluctant to paint a distressing picture for anyone who might be just beginning this journey or may know someone who is travelling this road. But I must be truthful about my experiences if these posts are to mean anything. I have now passed the half way point of my chemotherapy and have less weeks to go than I’ve already been through.
My first two sessions of chemo resulted in very similar experiences, the third however was quite, quite horrible. At the point of having this session, my neutrophil count was down to 1.5 from around 3.5 when I first began treatment. The lowest the count can be before treatment is postponed for a short while is 1, so I was very close to this. A low neutrophil count can result in neutropenia which leaves you without enough white blood cells to fight infection. The neutrophil count begins to fall about a week after each chemotherapy session. Neutrophil levels reach their lowest point about 7 days after treatment, which is when you become most at risk of developing an infection. Gradually the neutrophil count starts to rise again as the bone marrow begins producing neutrophils again. This however can take three to four weeks which is why the count can fall from one session to the next as each cycle is over a 21 day period.The cumulative effects of the drugs also meant my toxicity levels were high so on receiving my third treatment I experienced a truly dreadful week of illness, spending 18 hours a day in bed for the first few days. It took a further week before I started feeling even remotely normal and the decision was taken to postpone my next session by a week to give me longer to recover. By the time my fourth of six sessions came round a few days ago, my neutrophil count was up to 2.4.
The particular course of treatment I am on, involves two sets of drugs, the FEC and the T. I have now completed the FEC and began with the T on Monday. I have read and heard many unpleasant things about the T part of the treatment. People I have spoken to in my local cancer care group have called it a ‘brute of a drug’ and ‘extremely harsh’. My breast cancer nurse said it often makes people feel like they’ve been run over by a bus! Sadly, in my case they have been proven correct. After a day or two of feeling almost high because of the steroids I had to take before treatment commenced, I then plunged as every bone and muscle in my body began to ache. Red hot needles stabbed at the soles of my feet and my fingers. The pain has been so severe I haven’t been able to sleep and knitting has unfortunately not been an option for the last few days.
I’ve found it hard to think of the positives this week but when I woke this morning and the pains were receding and then I noticed that my lump seemed even smaller, I remembered why I need to go through this. I now have only two more sessions to get through and by mid November, chemotherapy will be finished. I met with my surgeon last week and she was extremely pleased with progress and is aiming to complete surgery before Christmas. It will be wonderful to start 2017 without cancer! The biggest decision I have had to make is single or double masectomy. My right breast needs to be removed to be sure all the cancer is taken away. The skin and nipple are also affected so can’t be saved. In addition I am unable to have reconstructive surgery at the same time as the masectomy as I require radiotherapy afterwards which also means I can’t have implants. There is so much to think about. I am fortunate to have such an understanding partner as Gavin who sat and discussed all the options with me, and was completely supportive of whatever decision I came to.
I plan to have a double masectomy and don’t envisage having reconstructive surgery at a later point. To go through through chemotherapy once is more than enough and knowing I can prevent it recurring by having the double masectomy makes so much sense to me. Reconstruction would mean many hours in surgery, the removal of muscle from my back or my tummy, microvascular surgery and months of recouperation, which just to have boobs really doesn’t seem worth it.
I know I’m going to appear a very different person when I come out the other side of all of this. Going from a 40DD to a ‘no cup’ is going to take some getting used to and my scars will always be there to remind me of what I’ve been through, but my breasts do not make me who I am. Cancer and particularly, breast cancer, strips away your physicality, everything you identify with that makes you who you think you are, hair, boobs, eye lashes, eye brows, sometimes even finger nails, it all goes and someone new is revealed. To a lesser extent this change happens to all of us as we age, its something we often try not to acknowledge, wearing the clothes we wore a decade ago, keeping our hair in the same style to keep us looking young. So now, I get a chance to try out a completely new model, unfettered by the bits I have desperately tried to hang on to over the years. A brave new, boob-less me, wearing my battle scars with pride!
But for now,
p.s. I’ll be back in a couple of days with a Vintage Shetland related update now I have a clearer idea of what the next few months have in store for me.
Image is Expectancy by Karl Albert Buehr – sometimes called Young Girl Knitting