My apologies for posting every day. I’m still playing catch up. Hopefully I’ll be back in the present soon and I expect to post about once a week.
Meanwhile, we’re at the point in my story where I have my first visit with the Oncologist.
I think the best way to choose a doctor is to ask people that work in the health industry, particularly those in a related field. If you need tests then technicians are a wonderful source of information. So are counsellors and nurses. Ask them this, “If you had (insert description of your cancer here) who would you see?” Followed by, “Who wouldn’t you see.” If you’ve got time then ask them, “Why?” but they’re busy people and most of the time you’ll just get a names and quick comments.
Based on my responses to this question I chose a surgeon that works in Sydney, an hour and a half from my home on the NSW Central Coast. That’s not to suggest that Central Coast surgeons and facilities aren’t excellent, but you really want to sure you’ve done the best you can to choose someone you’re impressed with when it comes to a life threatening disease.
When I agreed to have my chemotherapy before my surgery I asked my brilliant and impressive surgeon if it would be possible for me to have that treatment closer to home. She wasn’t sure. She said she’d have her receptionist contact a some of the local oncologists to determine if they were familiar with this mode of treatment. I saw her late in the day on Friday the 26th of July.
I spent the weekend dazed by my own shortsightedness. It was now just over five weeks since my initial mammogram and I STILL hadn’t had any actual treatment for the aggressive triple negative cancer that was growing inside my left breast. What was I thinking? I rang the office on Monday morning and asked her receptionist to book me in with whoever the doctor usually worked with. This woman could teach classes on being a great receptionist. She’s warm, funny and the most helpful receptionist I’ve ever encountered. She rang me back a short time later with an appointment to see the oncologist the following Wednesday and an appointment with a doctor at the imaging centre to have a clip inserted on the same day.
The clip insertion is a bit like having a body piercing on the inside. They put a little marker in with the tumours so that, and I quote, “If the chemotherapy melts the cancer we can see which bit of tissue to remove.” Wow! The chemotherapy might melt the cancer? Completely? That’s a very happy thought. Not only would the cancer be dead before the surgery but the surgery would be much less invasive if the four tumours had melted away.
If you have a clip inserted it’s worth knowing that it’s a moderately painful procedure. In my case the clip was very uncomfortable for about a week afterwards and even now I still feel it from time to time, particularly when I lay on my back. I’ve used this to my advantage. When I feel a twinge I think of it as the cancer being attacked, or use it to trigger my imagination. Here’s some of the things I imagine:
- If I’m under the shower I imagine the cancer cells being melted by the water and washed down the drain
- If I’m weeding the garden I imagine that I’m pulling cancer cells out of my body and throwing them away
- If I’m about to go to sleep I imagine my body regenerating loads of healthy cells to fight the cancer
- If I’m listening to music I imagine the music is soaking through my body and carrying the cancer cells out the other side
- If I’m practicing yoga I have all kids of imagery that I use with different poses: Warrior fights cancer, forward bends express gratitude, twisting poses squeeze the cancer out
There’s really no limit to these. A woman on the Breast Cancer Network forum liked this idea and said she was now going to imagine that every time she hit a key on her keyboard she was hitting a cancer cell.
My oncologist looks like she could be my surgeon’s sister. They are both petite, softly spoken and fiercely intelligent women. The both remind me of the elvish people from Lord of the Rings, or fairies. I’ll write more on fairies later. Suffice to say that, for me, this was a good sign.
My husband came with me and we both listened carefully to all of the possible risks and side effects. I had read a lot of information about chemo before the appointment. Knowledge is power as far as I’m concerned and it also allows you to make notes on any questions you have before the appointment. By this time I had two folders. One with plastic sleeves in a ring binder for all my test results, information, business cards, articles and anything else related to my treatment, and one for taking to appointments with a note pad and a pocket for any bills, referrals or information I’m given. It’s good to get organised early because treatment takes a long time and there will be lots of bits of paper.
I knew when I walked in to the oncologist’s office that I wanted chemotherapy. Triple negative breast cancer is called that because it doesn’t have any receptors for oestrogen, progesterone or HER-2. All of the great new cancer drugs have been developed to target those receptors. For me, it was chemotherapy or nothing.
A word of warning here. If you’re in the same situation as me you may find (as I did) that some people feel compelled to send you information about chemotherapy “killing more people than it cures” and claiming it’s a toxic, ineffective treatment foisted upon us by a callous and profiteering pharmaceutical industry. This is untrue. It’s not too difficult to use your computer to find the data that debunks these claims and it’s also a good idea to ask your treating oncologist about how effective this treatment is likely to be. There’s a reason that survival rates for breast cancer have improved so dramatically in my life time, and it’s not alternative treatments!
I eventually posted something on Facebook asking friends to only share positive things about mainstream medicine and cancer treatment. I believe that my best chance of survival includes having faith in my treatment and the staff that are giving it to me. I always make a particular effort to thank everyone, from the receptionist to the doctors to all of the wonderful nurses and support staff. I deliberately make comments about how they are saving my life. I’m not just telling them. I’m also reminding me.
At my first appointment with the oncologist she asked me when I would like to start chemotherapy. I answered, “Five weeks ago!” She understood. The soonest they could get me in was the following Monday. It would be six and a half weeks since my mammogram at BreastScreen.
I’m told people usually get very anxious before chemotherapy. I could hardly wait! Yes, I know it involves pumping lots of drugs into your body via a vein but it also represented my best chance of staying alive. All of the waiting had worked to my advantage. I imagined how great it was going to be to have those drugs attacking the cancer cells. I imagined what it would feel like to finally be cancer free. I wrote a letter to my cancer. I watched funny movies and the first series of Big Bang Theory on DVD. I gardened and meditated and did my yoga. I went shopping and bought all kinds of things that I thought would be useful during my treatment.
And I shaved my hair off.