6 weeks

My operation was six weeks ago. I am healing well and almost back to normal, although I still can’t carry very much.

I visited work today for the first time in months. It was so nice to see my lovely team again and it didn’t feel strange at all. I am looking forward to going back to work soon, partly because it will mean having a bit more normailty in my life after what feels like a very long time.

I will need five weeks of radiotherapy, starting either in December or January. I had hoped that I wouldn’t need it. The surgeon removed all of the lymph nodes in my left arm during surgery, and five had cancerous cells. If you have four, you are given radiotherapy. My surgeon said that it isn’t urgent, just preventative.

It’s going to be a right pain, having to drive up to Oxford (30 miles) every day for the rads. I wish that Swindon had the machines, it would have made my life so much easier. This way, you have to allow at least an hour each way, for only a 5 minute appointment. It’s difficult to work around kids’ school runs, dinner times etc too.

Brighter futures

Swindon Great Western Hospital is currently rasing funds for a new radiotherapy centre. It’s lead by Brighter Futures. You can read more about the appeal here. They still have a very long way to go.

My husband Mike is taking part in a 5km run, the Reindeer Run, on 6 December, to help raise funds for this. If you would like to donate, please see Mike’s fundraising page here.

I saw my surgeon today for some expansion, and although I haven’t completely healed, there is a better, more natural shape now. The needle that the doctor used was huge and full of saline. It didn’t hurt at all, in fact I couldn’t feel anything. I did laugh as he was filling me up, and said how odd it was. He said that he does it so often that he doesn’t think of it as strange anymore.

I used to love Richard Scarry books as a child, and one of them showed children what adults with different jobs did. What do people do all day?

I don’t remember reading anything like my recent experience in the book!





Christmas felt crafts

It’s Christmas next month, so it must be time to get out the craft materials.

I made these cute penguin and reindeer finger puppets with a set from Prima Christmas Makes magazine.

Great for stocking fillers or they could easily be turned into Christmas tree decorations with the addition of a bit of ribbon.

Craft kit with Prima magazine.
Penguin and reindeer finger puppets.
I decided to give them hearts. πŸ™‚
Good for stocking fillers.

My daughter has been asking for a nappy for her doll for a while now. The poor thing was naked (the doll, not my daughter). So I made her a nappy, using buttons for fasteners as I don’t have any velcro.

Nappy for doll.

Baby wears nappy

After that, I thought that doll still looked a little underdressed, so made her a raincoat. It’s not waterproof, but looks the part. Now she needs some wellies.

Doll wearing raincoat

No contest

When I attended the consultant’s breast cancer update the other night, one of the surgeons was talking about bc in the under-50s. She said that one of the side-effects of having cancer when you are pre-menopausal is depression.

Obviously everyone who has had cancer is going to be prone to depression, but it seems to be more of a problem in younger patients. I would guess that some of the reasons are related to shock: thinking that you are ‘too young’ to get ill, and suddenly finding out that you are, in fact, mortal; and fertility. Women post-menopause hopefully realise that their childbearing days are behind them. However, a younger woman may get a cancer diagnosis when she is single and hoping to meet the right man one day; or in a new-ish relationship or not ready for kids yet; or has been trying for a while but has no kids; or even pregnant.

One of the many joys of chemo is that it can damage your ovaries. I was asked on two different occasions if my family was complete. If not, I would have been quickly referred to a fertility specialst who would probably have advised freezing my eggs, or (for those in a relationship), embryos. These can be safely kept for up to 10 years. Some women will be able to conceieve naturally a few years post-chemo, but it’s a risk. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to not only be faced with your own mortality, but with the thought that you may never have those beautiful children that you had hoped to have one day. Or to think that your unborn child may be harmed while you undergo treatment. Horrible. Thank goodness for medical science to help ease the pain a little.

There is something else with some cancers, in that if your cancer is oestrogen postive, having (working) ovaries may incease your risk of cancer returning. This is why people who have the bc gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2), like Angelina Jolie does, choose to have their ovaries removed as well as having a double mastectomy. This means immediate menopause. Being pregnant will increase the amount of oestrogen flying around your body, which means an increased risk of cancer returning in women with oestrogen positive cancers. My cancer is oestrogen positive. So please don’t suggest that I ever have another child.

So you can see that cancer in younger women is especially unkind. I am not surprised that they are more prone to depression.

One of the good things about having cancer is that you get a heck of a lot of sympathy. Everyone knows someone who has had cancer, and it’s always in the news, and everyone is kind. That really helps.

I am going to contrast this with having an ilness such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. Everyone knows someone with one or more of these conditions. It does get mentioned a lot in the media. But for some inexplicable reason, many people who have it do not get much sympathy at all.

Imagine being so traumatised by something that has happened to you that you can’t sleep at night? Or having anxiety so badly, that leaving the house, or making a phone call can leave you shaking with fear? Or believing that you are worthless, no-one loves you, and everyone will make fun of you if you admit that you have depression? And then imagine a friend or someone on telly, making fun of a person with a mental health condition. You immediately feel even more cut-off, outcast and misunderstood than you did before. You are afraid to tell anyone that you are struggling. Your work and family life starts to sufffer.

Not nice is it?

I had post-natal depression for about 18 months. It’s hard for me to remember much during that time, as I was not really me. I do know that I believed that no-one actually liked me; I had no friends; and I was a useless mother. I did get a lot of support and care from family and a few close friends, and I had my faith. But what would have happened if I didn’t?

If you know someone who has a mental illness, please do not tell them to ‘cheer up’ or insinuate that their illness is not as bad as someone with a visible sickness. Please be kind to them. Please be patient. Please don’t avoid them – it’s not catching.

I have stage 3 breast cancer. I had 6 rounds of chemo. I had a double mastectomy with left-sided lymph node removal. I may need radiotherapy on my left side, which gives an increased risk of heart disease. Cancer is not a barrel of laughs. But I am still me, I know that I am still loved, and my mind and spirit are as strong and healthy as ever.

In my experience, depression is worse than cancer. It was much more painful, harmful to my family, and all-round nastier than cancer ever was. So please consider making a hot meal for a friend who has anxiety. Consider running a marathon to raise funds for a mental health charity. Be kind to someone who has depression in exactly the same way that you have been kind to me.

Life is not fair

Sometimes when one of my children moans about a real or imagined injustice, I tell them that ‘life is not fair’, which is true. Life is not fair.

I went to a talk by cancer surgeons, radiographers, and oncologists recently. It was to give an update on cancer research and practices for breast cancer patients, their loved ones, and nurses. It was very interesting. The section that I found most challenging was one about younger (pre-menopausal) breast cancer patients. That’s because I am one.

They did a survery of the room for those who are patients or survivors. Zero percent of us were diagnosed in our 20s. 16% in our 30s, and 70% in our 40s. That begs the question as to why normal mammogram screening starts at age 50? But that’s another topic entirely. By the way, if your Mum had breast cancer, you should be offered regular mammograms from your mid-30s, so ask your GP about that if you are concerned.

It did highlight to me what a minority I am in. I hadn’t really thought about that before. The fact is, that most women diagnosed with BC are over 50. But that doesn’t mean that younger women are safe, obviously. I have had a look at Cancer Research UK’s website and there are some risk factors that most people probably aren’t aware of.

You are at higher risk if you:

Have a close family member who had bc, smoke, drink alcohol, are overweight, eat a fatty diet, are tall, are on HRT, take oral contraceptives, started your periods earlier than average (12-13 years old), do shift-work, haven’t given birth and so on.

You are at lower risk if you:

Breastfed your child for more than 1 year. Do exercise.

This list makes me want to laugh. I am in many ways, at one of the lowest risks! But I still got it. Haha. As I say, life’s not fair.

I breastfed my daughter for 22 months, but was diagnosed with bc while breastfeeding. So don’t assume that it will definitely protect you. And don’t assume that if you do find a lump, that it’s just a blocked milk duct. I was sure that mine was, but still went to the GP, just to be safe. And I’m very glad that I did. Younger women often have faster-growing and more aggressive cancers. Which means that the longer you leave it to see a doctor, the more likey that the cancer is to spread beyond your lymph nodes. And if that happens, it’s a case of making the most of the time that you have left. Sorry to be so blunt, but people need to not bury their heads in the sand about this.

Also, over 200 men are diagnosed with bc in the UK every year, so men check your breasts too! And it’s not always lumps. Sometimes it’s a change in colour, or something just looks different. Get itΒ checked out.

But the good news is that 9/10 breast (and armpit) lumps are not cancer; and even if you do have cancer, you will probably live. And new treatments are being developed all the time: for most people, it is a managable condition that they will get better from.