Back to normal…

Turned a corner this last week. I am now officially off ‘the sick’ and back at work on a phased return.

It’s been going great so far. My manager (who currently is on leave following his own father’s death) had my phased return planned before he left for home and occupational health gave their input too.

No on-calls for the phased return, which lasts four weeks. I’m 50% the first week (which was last week), 75% the middle two weeks and then back to 90% the final week.

Then all being well I’m back to normal again.

It’s good being back to work again but I’m mindful that I need to watch out for the minor stresses that used to grind on me before going off sick. We work across two hospital sites and, unfortunately there’s occasional friction between the workers of both places. This drives me slightly insane, because I generally get on well with everyone and am happy to work hard but this constant background of simmering tension takes it’s toll on everyone. In this situation it’s usually those who are happy to work and are nice people that get shat upon. However, that’s all I’m going to say about that. I need to remember my new-found perspective on life in general since the cancer diagnosis and that means definitely not sweating the small stuff. Not worth it.

On the exercise front I’m keeping at it. I’ve officially been back at running for 8 weeks, after about a 16 week lay-off due to treatment etc. The pace is not lightning but I’m really just focusing on keeping it very easy aerobic for now. I’ve plenty of time until next triathlon season and Ironman Copenhagen isn’t for another 45 weeks (who’s counting?).

The swimming is ok, definitely got back into that a littler quicker than the running and my biking is good. I feel strong for having stayed on the turbo the whole way through cancer treatment. I’ve been out on social rides the last few Sundays with the triathlon club and it’s been great.

I’m starting to feel normal again. I don’t remember every waking minute that I’ve had cancer now because there are other things distracting me. I still remember every day but it’s nice not to be thinking about it constantly. With the passage of time, and clear scans (fingers crossed) hopefully those episodes of recounting the whole saga will start to dissolve slightly. We are definitely moving forwards and that can only be a good thing.

Onwards and upwards. Hopefully going to see the lovely parental unit this weekend with partner and pup’s in tow. Then will look forward to a holiday in Lanzarote (one of my favourite places) in a few weeks time. Always good to have things to look forward to. :-)

Line in the sand…

I’ve been meaning to write another blog post for a while but have not quite got around to it.

There has been a lot of discussion about cancer in the media in the week following Rachael Bland’s death from secondary breast cancer. This has brought up some raw feelings within me again. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just has made me realise that I haven’t allowed myself to fully heal both emotionally and mentally from the ordeal the last six months has brought.

What Rachael Bland and her colleagues, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon have achieved in the past six months through their podcast #YouMe&theBigC Β is unbelievable and truly amazing. They’ve opened the door on talking about cancer and all that it involves. I’ve listened now to every one of the podcasts, and whilst I couldn’t listen during my treatment I’m glad I finally got around to it. The discussions they have had are frank, honest and humbling. These girls are strong!! They really don’t leave any stone unturned. My favourite episodes were their very first one, “About Us” and then “About the Head” and “About the Nearest and Dearest”. All of them are good and all worth listening too.

So inevitably in listening to these podcasts I’ve had many thoughts about cancer and my own diagnosis and, for want of a better word, ‘journey’ over the past six months.

Alistair, Lauren’s dad, was a guest speaker on the show and talked about drawing a line in the sand which happens at diagnosis. You imagine drawing this hypothetical line in the sand at diagnosis and then stepping over it and bringing all your loved ones with you. That’s it…you can’t step backwards once that line has been crossed. It’s symbolic of – that life is never going to be the same as it was before.

It really isn’t going to be the same. Yes, the diagnosis of any cancer is devastating, and yes in the early stages I just wanted to go back across my line and be the person I was before. I grieved tremendously for that person. However, there are positive things about ‘the line.’

So in a way this blog is about my positives. (Of which the girls have done a podcast about too!! Listen to it.)

Whilst I appreciated life before (and I really loved my life) I love it all the more!

I appreciate every single day. Yes, there are days that I feel tired and I’m not able to do all I want to do but I’m so happy to be here. That’s a simple one to begin with. I love my partner. I love where we live. I love my family. I cherish every single puppy snuggle I get from my dogs. I love my friends and my work colleagues, and I love that I am still able to do all the things I did before diagnosis. I can still run (albeit more slowly), swim, cycle, walk, travel to foreign countries, drive my beautiful car. The list is endless actually.

Perspective changes your priorities.

You get a very healthy dose of perspective when you’re faced with your own mortality. We all have to face our mortality some time, but at 36 yrs of age when you think you’re pretty much invincible and someone tells you – ‘you got cancer,’ it puts things into perspective pretty sharpish. The most notable change for me was realising that for too long a time I have worried about what people think of me. That’s just ridiculous. It’s such a waste of time and energy. So what did this change of attitude bring about? Well I’ve been living in a semi-closet for most of my life and all of a sudden I just stepped out of it. Fuck that, I’ve cancer who gives a rat’s arse anymore what people think of me for being with another girl!!! Imagine that! Cancer trumps being gay any day. That aside, I actually do hope to continue to live being the real me, warts and all for the rest of my life. I don’t want to worry about what other people think, it’s their problem to sort out, not mine.

Joining the cancer community.Β 

The cancer community is unbelievable. I’ve met some amazing individuals through having cancer and am totally humbled by the work of volunteers and health-care staff working in any of the cancer units and areas. They truly are the best sort of people. I’ve also met a lot of other cancer patients, those who are living well with secondary cancer and those who have been through a similar situation to me, that is have been given the all clear for now. Don’t worry we don’t all sit around talking about cancer, sometimes we talk about anything but!! There is therapy in talking to people who have been through what you’ve been through and I’m very grateful to be part of this community, as grim as it sounds – the club no-one really wanted to be part of!

Learning to live in the present.

I’m still working on this one but I’m definitely better than I was before diagnosis. There is only the present, the past is gone and the future isn’t here yet. It sounds so bloody obvious!! However, we spend so much time worrying about the future or yearning for the past, that we don’t live in the moment and that is incredibly distressing. I’m working on my ‘being here now’ stance and I don’t think I ever would have worked on that had it not been for my diagnosis. Mindfulness is great and classes like Yoga and Pilates that focus on breathing also are something that are helping with this philosophy.

Strengthening your inner circle.Β 

Dear dear, it really sounds like I’m getting a bit buddha like here. What I’m trying to express here is that your inner circle of family and friends really come to the fore when you become unwell. I am still blown away by the absolutely amazing group of people who surrounded me and showered me with love, prayers and support after my announcement of breast cancer. I feel closer to my family than I have done in years. I have a small group of university friends who stepped up to the bat. I received flowers, presents, thoughtful gifts from work colleagues and friends and endless offers of support. My best friend came straight to our house as soon as she found out (that is the day of my diagnosis) and had a cuppa and a cry with me.

The most important person of all however, is my beautiful partner. She literally has been the rock at my side the whole way through this shit-storm and she’s been through it all too. Every rock-bottom, every break-down, every fearful disintegration into tears. I’m so proud of her and am so thankful I get to have her as my person. I am lucky.

 

There are probably loads more positives out there, they just haven’t come to mind during the writing of this blog. I just wanted to share because I do think it’s important to continue this dialogue about cancer and to appreciate those people who have opened those doors.

1 in 2 of us will have a diagnosis of cancer in our lifetime and it’s ok to talk about it. It’s important to talk about it, because it raises awareness, it makes people check themselves, go to the doctor sooner about worrying symptoms and also normalises the word cancer.

Thanks for reading to the end!! That was a bit of an essay. πŸ™‚

Starting again with baby steps.

I’m glad to say that I’m back at the exercise and have been for a few weeks.

I managed to get on my turbo at least five times a week all through radiotherapy and I think it did me the world of good.

The running started about three weeks ago and I thought about trying the Maffetone method of keeping my heart rate very low. Using his equations I got my MAF rate to be 133, which is extremely low, however surprisingly my min/miles have gone from a near walking 12:30min/mile to a 10:40min/mile in a matter of weeks. I am going to allow it to drift up to 138 for my steady runs now and will likely add in a little tempo runs over the next few weeks but the majority of runs will be keeping it low and slow!!

I did a long run of 6.2miles today and the sun was shining and my face was smiling and I just couldn’t stop with the goofy smile. I waved at all the cars passing me and even tried high-fiving a mum who was running with her child. I think she thought I was mad but she did put her hand out just at the last minute, although we didn’t quite make contact. Lol.

What has also buoyed me on in the exercise routine is returning from our long weekend in Copenhagen where we watched Ironman. I was meant to be doing it this year, but after my diagnosis had to defer my entry. No matter, we still made a holiday of it and I also got to support 17 wonderful team-mates from Lisburn Triathlon Club who all lined up on the day and did themselves proud. Suffice to say they inspired me to use my deferral and enter the race next year. Save the date – 18/08/2019.

I’m moving on. I have one more appointment next week to investigate a smaller lump that appeared post-op which we think is a thrombosed vein.

Yes it’s scary that I have to go back to the clinic where it all started but my logical brain is telling me that “it is, what it is, and not what I fear”.

This is what I am going to have to get used to…scanxiety and fear of recurrence. It’s never going to go away but…I can’t let it stop me doing all the things I want to do. There are soooooo many things I want to do!! The future is bright no matter what happens and I am so thankful to be able to get back to doing the things I love and to look forward to the future I have, no matter what happens.

Life is precious. I’m so happy to be here.

πŸ™‚

(These are some of the wonderful Ironmen from my club, the last evening of our trip walking into the sunset in beautiful Copenhagen)Β img_0883-effects

Final stages and looking forward…

Back from holiday this week.

It was a wonderful break. I was a bit ‘angsty’ for the first few days until I got a phone-call from the hospital to tell me my radiotherapy planning appointment would be the day after I got back. Β I was then able to relax and put all life at home to the back of my mind. Wonderful.

We did nothing but go for nice ambling walks into the town where we were staying, ate nice food, drank really nice wine and chilled for the whole two weeks. No exercise apart from some sea swims (no longer than 30min) and walks.

Since I’ve been back I have merely walked the dogs. There hasn’t been any organised form of exercise just yet but I think my body is happy enough with that.

My radiotherapy planning appointment involved speaking to a very lovely oncologist who discussed how radiotherapy works and what side effects I may expect. Β  The most common side effect will be skin irritation and I have to stick to a protocol of moisturising with a cream given to me by the radiotherapy team. It also means I need to avoid any exercise that might irritate the skin further – such as swimming in a chlorine pool. (Will need to ask about open water but think I might have to rule out any returns to swimming just yet.)

Technically I probably could jog but it might not be comfortable.

I’m relying on doing some gentle spinning on the turbo just to keep me sane but I will listen to my body and let it tell me how much it can cope with.

Radiotherapy starts next week for four weeks (or 20 sessions). As far as I understand – it will be three weeks of radiotherapy to general area and then one week of ‘boost’ radiotherapy where they target the operation site (ie where the tumour lay) specifically. Unbeknownst to me they have left some little clips in the tumour bed to identify it easily on scanning so that they can be very exact when they target their radiotherapy rays. (Isn’t medicine is amazing?)

I feel ready for it. I’m trying to decide if I’m anxious but I really don’t think I am. I want to get it done. I want to move on.

As regards moving on, I think it’s important to move on from it all mentally too. It hasn’t really been the easiest of rides and actually the mental side of it all has possibly been the hardest.

I’ve joined different internet forums in which you get advice from other people who have gone through very similar situations and they’ve been so helpful. I’ve been able to manage my expectations and learn some hints and tips for getting through the whole cancer treatment and for that I’m very grateful. Once this is all finished though, I don’t know that I can stay on those forums. I’ve thought about this very carefully and I want to focus on my future. I don’t want to be constantly thinking about it or have it forever at the back of mind. To be fair, it will probably always be at the back of my mind regardless, but to continue to talk about it on internet forums and the like will not be conducive to moving on. For me.

In a similar vein, apart from this post and possibly a post during or after radiotherapy I don’t think I’m going to keep talking about cancer.

What I will do and what I will talk about is health and fitness and living a good life. Living the best life.

I will likely talk about my next sporting goals and in an effort to give something back I will raise money for relevant charities. I feel that is what is going to work for me.

Looking forward – I can’t wait to get back to the drawing board and rewrite myself. Whilst I’ve been given the extra time this season I might try the Maffetone method (a friendly LTC colleague suggested it). However, it means my maximum heart rate works out at 133!!! So get ready for some very slow sessions appearing on Strava over the next few weeks. No slagging please.

That’s my update for now. Feeling strong. As always thanks for all your support, you are all legends. πŸ™‚

 

Wee Update

It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote anything down about my ‘adventure.’

As you recall I was awaiting to hear if I needed chemotherapy, my left arm (non-operative side) was not working very well and I was waiting in ‘transition 1’ to get ready for the next stage of this blooming race.

Three weeks on and I have finally found out that chemotherapy would not likely be a beneficial thing in my case. Basically the lump they removed was sent to America to get analysed by some smart people who look at genomic types of tumours. The test itself was called the Oncodx score. It tests the tumour for 21 different genes and their activity and gives it a score based on how likely it is to behave and respond to treatment. If you fall within the low risk score then chemotherapy is not likely to give any additional benefit and actually could cause more harm with its side effects. The two long-term side effects I was most afraid of were the 1% risk of future leukaemia/lymphoma and the 1% risk of developing heart failure. It took two weeks to come back and give us a result but thankfully (I think) I have fallen into the low risk group.

This news is really really good, however I had fully prepared myself for chemotherapy. It’s a very strange feeling to get told that you don’t need chemotherapy and that radiotherapy and hormonal therapy for the next 5-10years will be the treatment. Why is it strange? This will be hard to put into words – it’s because you want to celebrate but you feel like you cannot because you’re afraid. You’re afraid not to throw the kitchen sink at the bugger. You’re worried that the ability to throw said sink has been taken away from you. Most of all you’re worried that nothing is absolute and that no matter what you do this thing might come back sometime in the future. Also, I have a bit of guilt – I feel guilty about all my fellow ‘can-athletes’ (see what I did there) who did need chemotherapy.

But…there has been little cause for celebration during this whole affair and we thought it important that we do, and allow that small rim of light to appear on the horizon.

Where’s my left arm at? Well it’s still hiding somewhere in nerve impingement land. Left triceps is weak and my index finger is numb. Frustrating is not even a strong enough word for it. There’s any number of things it could be. Could be a herniated cervical disc, but if it is I’m just going to manage it conservatively for now. Physio, strengthening and getting on with things is how I’m going to deal with that one. My posture is awful, rounded shoulders, head forward and anxiety have all had a part to play. I will get there – I’m taking back control though, that’s the main thing.

Jeez, it sounds like I’ve moaned slightly throughout this post. Therefore in more good news… I was preparing to cancel a holiday to Lanzarote because I had been warned by oncologist that if I needed chemo, I needed it as soon as possible – therefore bye bye Lanzarote. However, at yesterday’s appointment I was told – no chemo therefore go on holiday!! Another minor (major, more like) celebration. This is what we so need. We had grieved for it already and had contacted the insurance company in advance but…I’m absolutely over the moon about this one. πŸ™‚

So triathlon analogy – onto the bike now (Tamoxifen for 5-10years), a bit of a transition in Lanza and then some radiotherapy to finish off the whole thing.

Not sure the ironman analogy is standing up to this but…I’ll leave it there.

Taking back control guys. #futc #gotthis

T1 and waiting…

So…l had my review appointment after surgery today.
Good news is that all of the nasty tumour is out with clear margins and it doesn’t look like it’s spread to the lymph nodes.
I am very happy about this.
However it was a nasty wee bugger of the fast dividing type and this might mean that I need chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy but…that is yet to be decided. (Meeting with the lovely oncology team next week.)
Some of you may have noticed that I’m treating this sort of like an ironman.
The surgery can be thought of as the ‘swim’ – something I wasn’t worried about and am quite happy going through because it had to come first.
I’m now in Transition 1, have managed to get my gear on and ready for the cycle but I’m just waiting to hear what route I have to take. I’m fairly positive I’m able for it though. πŸ™‚

On the actual exercise front I have been itching to get back into a bit of training.
Wounds have healed and some gentle swimming will probably be ok, but I still plan to get down and help out at our club sessions now that I can drive again!
Cycling has been scuppered by the worst crick in the neck I have ever had…ever. It’s so blooming bad that I have numbness in my index finger and my triceps on my left won’t blooming fire properly.
It’s stress/anxiety that have contributed to this, as well as over-compensation on my left. I wasn’t allowed to really do stuff with my right arm (surgery side) for two weeks. Poor leftie has taken the brunt of it. Hopefully it will pass but it’s a royal pain in the…ahem. It’s probably also happened because I’ve been doing next to no exercise and my body is pissed off at me for being so lazy. Anyway GP wasn’t too concerned and prescribed drugs and muscle relaxants and i’m seeing the physio on monday so fingers crossed it will get better soon.

Just want to take this opportunity again to say thanks so much to everyone who has been in touch, sent kind thoughts and positive vibes my way. (Also thanks for all the flowers and gifts, way too much you rascals!)
Honestly, it has given me so much faith in humanity and in the kindness of human beans (yes I did mean beans.) You are all total rockstars and have lifted me massively through this whole endeavour. (Have just had an image of me having an epic crowd-surf at a concert. That’s what it feels like so thank you.)

“D3 Post-op WLE & SNB”

So, my title means I’m a patient day 3 post-operative for an excision of my breast tumour and some lymph nodes in my armpit.

Things haven’t been going too bad at all. I would have written something on D0 if I had got anywhere near my laptop.

It’s probably better I didn’t though as I think I was still high for the first 24 hours after anaesthetic. I doubt I was still high from the drugs (although it’s quite possible), it was more likely a combination of relief, drugs and happiness that the first stage of the journey has been crossed. The days following I had the inevitable come down, the tiredness and the slightly emotional aspect of coming through this stage. Β (Translation: More tears.)

There are niggling doubts and a bit of realism about it all too. I know that the tumour will be looked at extensively under microscopes as will the lymph nodes they’ve removed, and in a little less than two weeks I will return to find out definitively what I’m up against next. The original plan was radiotherapy, if they find what they expected to find. That could change however if the tumour reveals itself to be bigger or that it has shown spread to the lymph nodes. We can only wait and see.

Pain wise – well I’m coping grand. I’m managing with paracetamol taken regularly about three times a day. The armpit is probably the sorest wound of the two but it’s manageable. I’m being very particular about doing my exercises that I’ve been prescribed to keep full range of movement and try to prevent lymphoedema.

I’m also trying to hold myself back but sometimes I’m doing more than I should and getting told off in the process.

R is working from home the next two days to “keep an eye on me”. She has just told me off for asking if I could even just walk the dogs. (You can go a bit stir crazy)

I do realise now that allowing two 7-10kg dogs haul me down the road might be a little difficult, especially when one of them does their business and I have to hold them with one arm and pick up the business with the other. Compromise – we will both go out later for a walk. πŸ™‚

So all in all I’ve survived.

We keep thinking how crazy the last four weeks have been and how crazy the next four months (and beyond) are likely to get but we are still here, surviving and thriving.

FUTC.

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