Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The fine print (ie a few boring details)

Saw oncologist Dr M this morning and he reiterated the good news that breast cancer surgeon Mr Tit-man had given me last week - that I am cancer free. He was slightly more reticent though, because I did not do the usual course, ie I did not have the full lymph node dissection. However, he did say that since my tumour had reacted very well to the chemotherapy, the lymph nodes should have done the same; and besides, they are a much smaller mass. Also, five lymph nodes were initially taken out; and only one was infected. The chances of having an infected one far away from the initial sentinel dissection are very rare: he compared it to finding teeth on a hen. So big phew then...

We then discussed the drug that I am to take daily for the next five years - a drug called Tamoxifen. Since my breast cancer was hormone positive, this drug basically blocks the growth of oestrogen in my body. Side-effects are an increased chance of ovarian cancer and blood clots - these are very rare though - again, the hen's teeth analogy. Other side effects are menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes and the like. Tamoxifen's success in preventing breast cancer recurrence though outweighs the possible risks and side-effects, so I will start taking the medication in two weeks' time.

Radiotherapy came next: we talked about whether or not I should have radiotherapy done to the lymph node area. Mr T had told me that he felt that it was not necessary because of the reasons mentioned above, and doing so would only negate what I had avoided by not having the full dissection: the risk of lymphedema. Apparently, radiotherapy can cause this as much as a full dissection. Dr M went through all my paperwork and he agreed with Mr T - so radiotherapy will only be focused on the breast area. I need to have eighteen sessions, everyday for a month - except weekends. Luckily, girlfriend and neighbour S who was diagnosed a month or so after me (what's wrong with the water where we live then?) will be doing the radiotheraphy with me. This should keep boredom at bay and we can also share the driving. Sadly, the radiotherapy will not be done at our local hospital. What a pain. Luckily, it's not too far from a shopping mall. What a relief.

Dr M checked my breast after surgery and he seems to be very happy with the results. Very neat apparently, and smoother than most (which is a good thing). Why the heck does he always have cold hands though???

So again, onwards and upwards!

Friday, 25 November 2011


Earlier today I attended a charity coffee morning for breast cancer, organised by the beautiful S. I knew nearly everyone there; in fact I felt almost like a minor celebrity as most had heard the news that I had been given the all-clear. In the midst of all the conversation someone mentioned that I'd had a bad year and I kept quiet, as I completely disagreed. I did not voice my disagreement though as I thought it might make me sound like someone in terrible denial.

But it's true: I have not had a bad year. Challenging perhaps, but certainly not bad. I have learned so much about myself this year and I'd like to think that the diagnosis has made me a nicer and perhaps more tolerant person. Relationships have changed for the better and I am in absolute awe at how people have reacted so wonderfully to my cancer diagnosis.

Bizarrely, I do not regret this year and am even grateful for what it has brought me. Initially I cried a lot and questioned why I had to get this evil crab. But once I managed to put things in perspective, I almost felt as if the cancer was just a blip, an illness to get over, and that once I was cured things would go back to normal. After all, people go through similar challenges, but perhaps just not given the same attention as it does not carry the C word.

So last night, our family celebrated Thanksgiving. As a Filipino married to a Scot, our cultures do not normally practice this American holiday. But my Facebook wall was inundated with Thanksgiving posts by American friends, or friends who live across the pond, and I thought, why not? After all we, as a family, have much for which to be thankful. So before we sat down to dinner, we all said what we were grateful for this year, and I was very happy that my cure was only mentioned by myself and Alasdair. For it is just one of the many things for which we are thankful.

It's strange, but I think the only thing I could probably compare it to would be giving birth: it's no fun at all, and heck, does it hurt - but then in the end you're left with a beautiful baby. And the pain and inconvenience is forgotten by the wayside. With cancer I had to go through the pain and inconvenience of treatment, but I have come out the other side with a hopefully better me. The only difference is that there is absolutely NO WAY I would want to go through this again.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

What I'm truly proud of

Last night, when we arrived home, second son E opened the door for us and I immediately shouted, "I have no more cancer!" And he replied, "Oh, okay" and rushed off to do whatever very important thing he was doing before we interrupted him with our arrival.

Eldest son C and daughter N did not react with much more emotion either when we told them the good news. And this is the one thing I am truly proud of. Friends and family have come forward congratulating me on conquering and stamping out this silly crab. But I cannot really take the credit - I just did what the doctor ordered and sat there and let the chemotherapy drugs do their work. But I am very happy and proud that our children seem to have come out of this nearly year-long ordeal unscathed. Throughout this experience, LH and I made sure that the children would not be scarred nor frightened, thinking that they may lose their mummy. We've been as normal as possible with them (and with all others, I'd like to think), going about our daily lives with bad news and chemotherapy treatments taken in stride. And last night's reactions proved that we had been successful. And for this, I do want my pat on the back.

*I know it is grammatically incorrect to end sentences with a preposition. I did think of a way around it, but 'The thing for which I am truly proud' just sounds too pedantic.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ding dong, the evil crab is dead!

Yes, 'tis true, the evil crab is no more. Hurrah! Saw Mr Tit-man tonight and he gave LH and I the good news. Apparently (now hopefully I get this right - I was pretty overcome with emotion that I turned into some kind of blubbering wreck) chemotherapy attacks tumours in three ways:

1. they shrink the dang things into oblivion;
2. they make the tumours smaller and smaller and eventually all that's left is a tiny little dot; or
3. they attack the tumour and break it into tiny little bits.

My (ex - HA!) tumour reacted like the last one. The biopsy showed that tiny bits of my (ex) tumour were taken out during the surgery and the margin around the area was completely clear. Which means that there are no more cancerous cells. I am an ex-breast cancer person. I do not have the evil crab inside me any longer. It has been blasted into a million tiny little bits. It is an ex-evil crab. But just to make sure, radiotherapy will continue as planned in January.

I am absolutely ecstatic, to say the least. Even the funny robe without the belt the nurse gave me to wear did not dampen my spirits. And to prove my joy to Mr T and Nurse M, I blubbed when I received the news. Which surprised even me as I had been pretty calm leading up to tonight. But I suppose I was just so relieved...

THANK YOU again to my LH, my children, my family and all my friends. I would not have made it this far with positivity and good humour if I had not been blessed with your love, laughter, hope, prayers, strength and support. You are angels. Thank you. I love you all.

Sunday, 20 November 2011


On Wednesday, the day I left hospital, I received a 'phone call from Nurse M, not just for her to find out how I was doing, but also to order me to take my bandages off on Saturday. But I just had a chunk of my breast taken out on Tuesday, I argued. She wasn't having any of it however. Visions of Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety suddenly entered my mind...

Well, Saturday was yesterday and needless to say, I waited until bedtime to take the bandages off. And I had to ask poor LH to do it, as I was a quivering wreck at the thought of taking them off myself. Anyway, to cut the long story short, the evil bandages are off and I have been left with a sore and bruised breast. Not a pretty site. Admittedly, Mr T seems to have done a good job - it's very similar to my other breast and the err... nipple seems to be in the right place. But it's bruised. And it's sore. And I'm being a real wimp about it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


I'm back home after spending the night in hospital. I had my lumpectomy yesterday; hopefully all traces of the evil crab are out of my body. However, we won't know for sure till next week: we will have the results of the biopsy then. If it is all clear, it's time to rejoice. If not, we will have to consider a mastectomy. Although the mastectomy will come with a tummy tuck, I'm not THAT desperate for a flat stomach so would really rather not go through with that, so fingers crossed.

The operation seems to have gone as well as we'd hoped, and according to Mr Tit-Man, he is 'cautiously optimistic.' I am not in a lot of pain at the moment - I just feel slightly battered - it's similar I suppose to the feeling of muscular pain and fatigue from working out after a long hiatus. And the pain could've also come from the pre-operation procedure I had to have - that of putting a wire into my breast. (Stop reading now if you're squeamish.) I had to have a mammogram and whilst my breast was clamped into position, the doctor poked a thin wire into my breast, pinpointing the marker placed a couple of months ago. This was done so that Mr T would know where to take out the breast tissue. (The tumour had completely disappeared with the chemotherapy.) This took a good ten to fifteen minutes, plus a number of mammograms later to make sure that the wire was in the right place. This of course was not fun; women can imagine the pain of having your breast clamped repeatedly between two plates AND having a wire inserted. I suppose the nearest thing for men would be having the same done to their testicles...

Needless to say, after this procedure the operation itself was a doddle; it helped that I was completely knocked out in the first place. I was awakened a few hours later feeling very groggy; I suppose the medical staff forcefully wake you to make sure they haven't accidentally killed you. LH, the children and Weird Uncle Marc dropped by a few hours later but I don't remember much about the visit as I was still woozy. Just as well as apparently the children took turns playing with my oxygen - LH had told them it was helium and they were hoping for a change in their voices.

I would've had a very good sleep that night except that the nurse kept popping in to check my blood pressure and to see if I was all right and sleeping well. Seriously, why do they do this? Anyway, am now in the comfort of my own bed and am hoping for an uninterrupted sleep. Good night!

Monday, 14 November 2011


I am surrounded by some pretty insane people. They think that they're normal, but really they're not. However, I spent three hours over lunch with four of these pretty mad (but absolutely gorgeous) people earlier today and I can, hand on heart, say that they are pretty crazy.

LH and the children are equally mad, and I have also received messages of support from the downright strange J, who wants to sell her entire house and home on ebay. Weird Uncle Marc arrives tomorrow to manny and well, his name alone says it all. And I'm convinced that my family was in front of the queue with upturned umbrellas when God was handing out crazy behaviour.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. It's the day before my operation, and rather than worrying about it, I have spent most of the day just laughing my head off.

Thank you to all of you. And thank you too to all my normal friends who have sent me love - it really means so much to me.

The first cut is the deepest

So, I'm going under the knife tomorrow for my lumpectomy. The evil crab will finally be excised. I'm hoping that this 'cake slice' won't be too big. (See October 12 entry 'Yippee'.) After all, the 'cake' isn't very large to begin with and I don't really want to end up with a pancake.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

I've got chills, they're multiplying

I've got the flu, and despite my giving LH a very hard time for his man flu, I'm milking this for all its forth. After all, I do feel terrible; and not only that, I'm worried sick that because of this darned flu my operation on Tuesday will be postponed. I actually saw the GP yesterday just to make sure that my cold had not turned into a chest infection. But apparently, there was no rattling in my chest. Phew.

I spent most of Friday in bed and felt much better this morning, except for a very persistent cough. So I took a teaspoon of Pei Pa Koa, a Chinese cough syrup my sister T had recommended the last time she was here. Admittedly, I was dubious; but considering that Chinese medicine can cure a whole myriad of ailments (Tiger Balm alone can cure nearly everything after all) I gave it a try. And to my surprise, within five minutes my cough had eased. And as its ingredients seem to be mostly herbal (no rhinoceros willies in there) it will now be a part of our medical arsenal.

As I felt much better after the miraculous Pei Pa Koa, I went about as normal and left to watch daughter N play lacrosse. And although I felt comfortable initially, as the afternoon wore on I got colder and colder, so I am now suffering again. Sadly the amazing Pei Pa Koa has not been enough to make me feel better; so I am now spending time in bed resting. Fingers crossed I'll be fine for Tuesday.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sniffle, sniffle

I managed to avoid the cold whilst I was undergoing chemotherapy. But now that I'm done, I'm suddenly all bunged up! According to girlfriend S, it's probably because I was on high-alert whilst I was undergoing treatment. And now that I've relaxed a bit, I'm more prone to infection since I'm not looking out for it. Dang. Does this mean that I must continue with the wheatgrass and horse tablets to keep the cold at bay? Nah, I don't think so... I've just booked myself in for a flu jab. Because of the cancer, I have joined the ranks of the 'vulnerable' and am now entitled to yearly flu jabs. Ha!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

By the way...

As it turns out, the feeling of bloatedness that I constantly had in the Philippines was not a result of massive overeating - it was water retention caused by the heat. (Well, most of it was anyway.) And it wasn't the dreaded DVT either - my feet are actually back to normal size and I can wear sandals again without embarrassment. Except that I cannot because it's very cold here.

And I've also completely embraced by bald look. But guess what? It's cold so I have to wear hats. Sigh...

God can have a pretty odd sense of humour. Well, He did make the giraffe!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Let's get physical

My beautiful friend A has just done the New York Marathon. This was her second marathon in four weeks (yes, she is slightly mad). When I congratulated her on the effort, she said, verbatim: "If you can go through what you have been through, then I can get round 26.2 miles!" First of all, what she did was 26.2 miles TWICE in four weeks.

Now I don't want to undermine what I have been through - or have yet to go through. Although physically it has been a challenge, and losing my hair initially was very hard, I honestly don't think that it's that different from what others go through, in terms of a physical challenges, on a daily basis. I can think of many people who are most probably facing similar, or much worse hardships in their daily lives.

For me, the hardest thing about this entire journey has not been the chemotherapy, the fatigue, the nausea or the hair loss. It's the thought of death. The thought that I would leave my children early when I have not yet taught them all that I know. The thought that I won't be there to give them a guiding hand when they are faced with their own challenges as they are growing up. However, I am off this mindset - when death finally does get to me, it hopefully won't be because of this darned cancer.

So, my darling A, give yourself a very well-deserved pat on the back for having done the marathon twice in four weeks - it is certainly an achievement.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Where does the time go?

Since I stopped gainful employment around three years ago, one of the worst things that LH can ask me when he arrives home from work is what I've been up to on the day. Simply because when I start enumerating things I've done, they all seem pretty trivial, and they all sound as if I would've been able to do them in an hour's time, tops.

Take a look at this: tidied up the bedrooms, did the laundry, sorted the paperwork, went to the gym and post office and made dinner. Looks pretty simple huh? Surely an hour or two, maximum? HA! Nothing like that. By the time I'm done with the last item on my list (if I even had the chance to do everything), it's time to pick up the children from school again.

The thing is, it's very true: a mother's work is never done. So, once I knew that I was going to be undergoing chemotherapy and was going to be indisposed for a couple of days each week (or nearly an entire week every three weeks at the beginning) I put on my organised mum hat and got everything ready for the days I was not able to do my thing. The last time I was this organised was when I had the twins - I had three children aged 17 months and below, all in nappies. And I had no help. So I had to get organised.

But now it's over. Suddenly, I have all this free time again. I don't spend Wednesdays and Thursdays non compos mentis. And I feel almost lost. I've been busy, yes, but I seem to find myself with more free time than I can remember. I've been to the gym nearly every day this week (would've been everyday, if not for a silly yappy dog that caused a half-hour traffic jam on the way to the gym) and I've done all the ironing. But yet, I'm still finding myself spending what surely is an unhealthy amount of time on Facebook. And going around the house looking for things to do. This can't be right.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Bald is beautiful? 2

It was agonisingly hot in the Philippines. This, coupled with the hot flushes that I seem to be getting with increasing regularity, made head coverings absolutely torturous (don't even mention the wig). So I learned to finally, FINALLY, embrace my bald self. I went out a couple of times with no head covering whatsoever. And I like to think that I rocked it. Admittedly, there are still days when I feel I look like Arnold Schwarzenegger's disguise in Total Recall, but they are becoming fewer and far between.


Have found out that I do have hair after all, but it's WHITE. And as I'm not allowed to colour it for an ENTIRE year, I will just have to channel the granny look. Woe is me.