Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

7 Jun 2019

Breast Cancer - a message of hope

I'm writing this as a message to anyone who has had a recent diagnosis of breast cancer or for friends and family of those affected.  I want people to know that it is possible to rid your body of cancer and there's no special herbal, holistic or whatever, remedy or any 'special' positive thinking required, just submit yourself to the health care professionals and let them do their job.

I say this because I feel that the recommendations and instructions by well meaning bystanders, aren't in my opinion always helpful. I've read a few other people say this. The idea that you can 'fight' it or 'battle' with it actually gives you the guilt that unless you are prepared to become this guru of 'positivity', you won't be helping yourself and you will let the cancer 'win'.  

This is such utter rubbish, I'm sorry, but please trust me fellow cancer person, you really musn't be made to feel like you should take control and dig for the energy to do some miracle working. All you need to do is turn up at your appointments and do what your specialist team tells you. Try not to over complicate with over thinking. I didn't even hate my cancer, it was just a bit of my body that went wrong. You just need to move your mind-set and try to relax into the process and learn to go with the new flow.

I can honestly say that from day one I've not been positive, the only thing I've been is honest. I've not put a brave face on it, I've just dragged myself through every day, often grumpy, often rude and mostly really angry. I can't really be angry at getting cancer anymore, it's taken a while but as time ticks on you realise that this happens to so so many people and no-one is exempt from the lottery I'm afraid. 

I've been mostly angry for no reason other than that I feel like shit from the drugs or the operation and I see the jobs round the house mounting up, the frustration that the garden needs weeding, there's decorating to be done and there's washing in the basket from last summer. My husband does as much as he can and kind friends have often fed us as he is no great cook.  

I think it's ok to feel angry, however it manifests just go with it.  The most important thing is cope with it in your own way and if you don't feel positive then join the club, because why should you? 

For a lot of people getting a breast cancer diagnosis they won't really have been feeling ill or in pain before, it comes as a shock because you don't often get any warning signs, it's just wham suddenly it's there, or it's been there a while and you hadn't noticed. I found a large lump when I got a twinge lying down in bed one day, I was between the three year scans which I've always gone to.  The lump was 4cm and the cancer cells had spread to the lymph nodes already, so this was fairly advanced right?  

Now here's the thing. From what I can tell speaking to other people, the doctors often give you the worst case scenario, they won't want to give you any 'positive' spin like 'oh but the type you have is the sort that doesn't recur' or 'the position of your tumour makes surgery very easy' etc. These are the things you will have to try and glean for yourself if you can, but my advice is try not to scare yourself shitless. Denial I think can be a great way to control the panic so actually, the less you have to panic about the better.

The best advice I can give is just submit yourself to the process. In fact - stop fighting (whatever that is), I'm not really certain anyone can actually tell you what 'fighting it' involves because there is bugger all you can do except go to the appointments and take the medicines. Everyone has a different treatment plan and this can change depending on how you respond to the drugs. So here's a rough idea of mine.

After all the relevant scans, biopsy, echo, bone density, MRI etc. your team should be armed with all the information they need to prescribe the drugs and the order the treatment is given. Some people have an operation early on, but mine plan was to shrink the lump so that there would be less breast to remove.

To shrink the lump I went for a full day of drugs through intravenous drip every three weeks. These were one chemotherapy drug and two other drugs, one of which is herceptin and the other another type of biological immunotherapy drug. During the administering of these I would sit in a comfy chair at the hospital and plugged into the Scalp Cooling machine to prevent my hair falling out (Which as you know totally worked one hundred per cent). 

Usually for the first couple of days after chemo you don't feel too bad then the side effects start to kick in and during the months these tend to get worse. Deal with these in whatever way you can. Eat what you fancy, stay in bed if you want to, just don't push yourself to do anything you don't feel like doing. Any small pleasures just take them and so if healthy eating goes out the window, then so be it. Just don't push yourself. 

The drugs are the cure but the cure will make you feel pretty terrible. So ironically, having not even felt ill before the treatment you begin the process of just letting the drugs do their thing which unfortunately will take it's toll on your entire body. Here's the thing though, they work so just stick with them. After one round of chemo I started to realise I couldn't feel my lump anymore and after three rounds of chemo neither could the professionals, in fact they couldn't even see it on ultrasound because it had shrunk so much. At this point they realised that much less of my breast could be removed so after having prepared myself for half of my breast being cut away, I ended up with only  a small portion of it taken.  As I type I'm still in pain from the operation because they also have to remove your lymph nodes (mine are the ones in my armpit), so it's pretty sore but despite the swelling etc. I can see that my breast won't look too different to before. So much time worrying about something that didn't happen! Originally the plan would have meant that my breast would be so different to the other one that I might want to have the other healthy breast reduced in size to match (which I probably would have done). 

This week I went for the appointment to get the results from the operation. The surgeon says that it is extremely unusual to find no trace of cancer in the surrounding tissue but in my case there was nothing, not a single cancer cell to be found in the tissue taken from my breast or from my lymph node. 

I'm waiting now for my oncologist appointment to find out what treatment I need next. This isn't the end, it doesn't just stop here because the cancer is gone.  So while I don't completely understand why, I do know there is possibly more chemotherapy, radiotherapy and ongoing medication. 

Now it's just time passing and the process being finished over the coming months, then the recovery again after that. But for now I don't have to think about having cancer. I just need to deal with the physical side effects as they come. 

I never once thought I would definitely be clear of the cancer, certainly not this quickly, because I didn't want to let myself down  and I think this is where positive thinking doesn't work. If you continually tell yourself it's going to be great and it isn't then you have that horrible disappointment every time it doesn't go to your plan. While I appreciate that positive thinking means different things to different people, it's never made any sense to me and I just want to say that if it doesn't make sense to you either, then you shouldn't feel bad about that too. God there's enough to feel bad about already! Learn to re-adjust, perhaps give in to the fact that things will be different after. Life doesn't have to be less enjoyable it might just be different, and hey, maybe you needed a change anyway. 

Try to believe that for most people the drugs do work so just hang on to that. 

This blog post is here to tell you, it might not be as bad as it first appears. Until you take the medicines you won't know how you react to them, or how well they will work but I do believe the trained professionals know their stuff because I'm proof that what they prescribed did work. 

If you have received this diagnosis try to find a thought process somewhere between panic and delusion. Sounds hilarious I know. I think it's fairly natural to go to the worst case scenario and maybe you do need to explore all the eventualities of what could happen. But even the doctors don't really know how it will go for you so just try and go along with all they can offer, don't get too angry with their lack of information or encouragement because knowing less and keeping an open mind is probably more helpful for your own sanity anyway.

Distract yourself as much as is humanly possible, this is the best tonic. It will take your mind away from the scary thoughts and the harsh realities. So to do this don't let your mind have too much time on it's hands, fill it up with anything and everything. If I even think about meditation I panic at what my mind will do so for me it was read, watch tv, knit, learn a new language, do crosswords. Think of this as one big long waiting room queue and on the days when you feel a bit better go for a drive and explore, go to the beach or a museum, just fill the time while the drugs work on your body. 

The time it takes will be different for everyone so try to take a break from your busy life and learn to become a patient patient. Again, my best advice is submit to the process, stop fighting for the life you had and the things your would normally do, just go with the flow for now if you can. Maybe you can pick up where you left off afterwards and maybe you won't. And just maybe, you will see things differently anyway, but who knows? Just do what you can to take the pressure off.  

See it as a learning curve perhaps if learning is something you enjoy. Learning how to be another kind of human to one you've been before, or possibly not letting it change anything. Whichever, just try and take a break from the future.

Things will change for a while and like having days off sick from school, see it as a long sick day, watch all that crap daytime tv, binge on netflix, watch all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones three times and knit a lot of jumpers. Remember the fondness we all have for taking a sick day from work, perhaps this time, on reflection, will be like an exaggerated version of that. Find your niche and don't feel under pressure to be anything or anyone you don't want to be. After it's over a new attitude for living in the now, seizing the day may change how you see everything but for me until I feel physically better I'm not going to make plans, I'm just going to wait and try to be the patient patient. 

Right now I can't find the energy or impetus to do my oil painting or photography but that will happen at some point, I just don't know when. For now I will continue to trust the doctors and take the medicines for however long they feel necessary knowing that it works and I hope this can give you some hope to do the same. 

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