I thought I knew everything that could happen to me on this cancer journey. After all I'm on my seventh chemotherapy now, had radiotherapy twice, probably every scan currently available in this country, numerous infection scares and hospital stays. I'm coming up to my tenth 'cancerversary' and have been fighting this bugger on and off for a quarter of my life. So you can imagine my surprise when I woke on a Friday a few weeks ago with a funny eye, it felt very dry and grainy. Of course, when you've slept on that side and pressed your eye to the pillow, you know, when you have attractive red streaks on your face from the bedding, you can wake feeling that way.
However, when my mouth drooped and the whole side of my face felt paralysed, I knew this was more than just a funny eye. Due to a good advertising campaign that's been running I immediately thought of a stroke and googled the symptoms; droopy face seemed to be the only one I was suffering from so what to do? Phone the Royal Marsden or phone A&E? I phone the Royal Marsden and they advised for me to come down immediately, I contemplate going to A&E but the Marsden are confident they can get me on an MRI machine faster and if it is a stroke they will send me down the road to the local A&E. I hop in a taxi and phone my best mate who thankfully is free and can meet me there. When you live on your own, you need to track down someone in your care circle so they know when these things are happening and can disseminate information to other friends and family as needed.
I get to The Royal Marsden and phew, my best friend arrives. I am on an MRI machine immediately after my blood is taken. Great yet another MRI and only two weeks after the last one on my head! However, the staff are so friendly and I'm such an old hand with this that I know where to go in my head so I don't feel too stressed out. Back over to the ward I wait to see the doctor. Thankfully, I only have to wait an hour before I'm in the consultation room to hear the initial results. It's not a stroke and there are no tumours in my head.
Out comes a big sigh of relief... but... then... what is it? It turns out I have Bells Palsy, a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face and probably caused by an infection given my rockingly low immune system. The doctor puts me on steroids straight away and sends me home to rest. Righto, I've got a whole taxi journey home to search on my phone and find out more about Bells Palsy. It seems I'm on the right treatment and due to the speed of my having symptoms to my first dose of steroids only being five hours, this is a good start for me. While some never recover most get at least some movement back and the majority regain full use of their face.
I rest all weekend and see my oncologist on the Monday. Already the very first signs of improvement can be seen. My oncologist is super relaxed about it and says that any infection I've had throughout my life could pop up now as my immune system has been so battered for so long...
Okay, I'm confident that things will get better but also utterly depressed that it's yet another thing I have to deal with. The Bells Palsy was having a big impact on my life; I was wearing an eye patch as my eye was so dry from where it wasn't closing to blink and I was taping my eye closed at night so I can sleep. I had to hold the left side of my mouth to talk and eat as it didn't move at all. The thing I love to do so much, smiling, was out of the question, it was all super lopsided... In fact I'm someone who is very animated with my face in general and when half doesn't move it makes me look very strange.
Emotionally it's had a much worse effect, I just felt like I couldn't win and almost every day bought some new bad news or medical mishap. There is only so much a person can take and it does seem like I'm being tested constantly. Each time I find a way to cope but will there be a time when I can't cope anymore? It didn't help that I was feeling awful from the cancer, awful from the chemotherapy and awful from the infection causing my Bells Palsy. Bed was the best place for me to be from an emotional and physical point of view so I hid away and waited for these things to pass.
I did have some help though as my stepmom arrived and cared for me for 10 days. She made sure I got three meals a day to help with the rapid weight loss due to the cancer in my liver and ensured I could rest fully to get a bit better and on my feet a bit more.
Thankfully with a big dose of family love from my stepmom, over the next few weeks things slowly improved and four weeks later I'm back to normal and just a little annoyed by my half numb chin and lip. The funny thing is that doesn't annoy me half as much as it did before!
But if I rewind to that appointment with my oncologist, it wasn't the best meeting, in fact it was quite a stark reminder of this journey and I'll tell you more in my next blog.
For more information on Secondary Breast Cancer, please visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk/secondary