I never imagined I would spend most of the year fighting breast cancer. Please bring me a full head of hair in 2013 and a cancer-free future for me and all those I love!
Laura Price, aged 30 ¼, bald and bored of the big 'C'. xx
P.S. Here's the final installment of my chemotherapy diary...
My Chemotherapy Diary: Part IV
Nov. 26: The day before my sixth and final chemotherapy session, the telephone rings. It's Gareth Evans, professor in medical genetics.
"Laura," he says. "It's good news. You got the all-clear."
I could cry with relief. Seven weeks ago, I took a blood test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer gene mutations and I've become more and more worked up about the result, anxious to know whether I need a double mastectomy, desperate to start planning my future.
Because my maternal grandmother had breast cancer in her 30s, I am expecting to test positive. Having the gene fault would mean having a double mastectomy now, getting my ovaries removed in my 40s, and possibly deciding not to have children so as not to pass on the gene fault. Thankfully, none of this will be necessary.
As I said in a previous blog post, I considered having a double mastectomy regardless of the result, to remove any future breast cancer risk, but after consultation with my oncologist, surgeon and geneticist, the consensus is it would be silly to undergo a huge, risky operation for a relatively small chance of breast cancer recurrence. After all, the greater risk to my life is that my breast cancer spreads elsewhere - my lymph nodes, lungs or bones, for instance - and having my breasts removed wouldn't stop this from happening. Nevertheless, I'm so happy about the result - 'relieved' is not the word.
Nov. 27: Not only am I elated about my gene test result and the fact that this is my final chemo, I'm also semi-high on pre-chemo steroids, so wearing the bunny onesie my friends got me for my 30th birthday seems like an excellent idea. Plus, it's freezing cold outside and I'm about to endure the usual ice torture that goes with Taxotere chemotherapy, so I figure the extra warmth from the bunny suit is ideal!
Strangely, nobody at the Christie Hospital bats an eyelid at my oversized, rabbit-shaped babygro - not even a grin from my oncologist as I exit his room, revealing my little white bunny tail! These people are clearly too used to seeing patients in their PJs...
The nurse gets the needle and cannula into my hand without the usual bother and the chemo infusion whizzes by without incident. Either the freezer at the Christie Clinic isn't working too well or I'm just getting tougher, but I don't find the frozen ice gloves on my hands and feet quite as painful as I did the last two sessions. Before I know it, the hard part is over and I'm out the door, hoping never to return for another chemotherapy round in my life!
Nov. 28-Dec. 1: For the first few days post-chemo, I feel absolutely fine. Alongside the chemo, I'm taking a fairly potent concoction of extra steroids, drugs to offset the side effects of the steroids, a daily self-injection to boost my immune system, Senokot to ward off the constipation and a few essential vitamins, but I manage to combat the usual insomnia and get plenty of sleep.
Dec. 1-4: When the effects of Taxotere kick in, they really do kick hard, and in my case, this happens over the weekend. At certain points during chemo, I feel as if time has stopped entirely, and everyone's life is just going on while mine is on hold. All I can do is lie in bed and stare into space, feeling depressed. It's just like when you spend a Saturday night in by yourself looking at everyone else having fun on your Facebook feed (which I do a fair bit), only times the feeling by a thousand.
The pain also starts to kick in - not as intense as in the previous rounds of Taxotere, but nevertheless an uncomfortable prickly pain in my legs, which later spreads to my back. I also have the usual coated tongue, sore mouth, extreme lethargy, headaches, horrible feeling in my mouth and terrible, terrible hot flushes - it's quite common to experience menopausal symptoms during chemo, but fortunately mine turn out to be side effects of the steroids, and not the menopause just yet. (Phew)
My veins are also twitching and pulsing, as if I can feel the chemo drugs pumping up and down my arm, and my muscles and joints are tight and sore from the lack of exercise. Who knew earlier this year when I was running several times a week that I'd be feeling like an arthritic 90-year-old, six months later?!
Dec. 5: Weirdly, my hair has started to grow back, beginning with a small patch on the back of my head that's growing faster than anywhere else. I am told hair can become resistant to chemo drugs and it's common for it to start growing back after the fifth chemo, but it's likely it will fall out again before it grows back properly.
My eyebrows and eyelashes, on the other hand, have been falling out gradually over the four months since starting chemo and are now thinner than ever before. Fortunately, with a good wig and a little make-up, I can just about transform myself from "Hairless and Ill" to "Healthy and Normal" within 10 minutes!
Dec. 7: I've had a higher-than-normal temperature for four days and a mild, tickly cough, so I decide to go to the doctor for a blood test and a few checks. He confirms I don't have a chest infection or any other visible infection, and the next day he calls me with the test results. Expecting extremely low levels of white blood cells and neutrophils (the ones that fight infection), both the doctor and I are a little surprised to find I have abnormally high levels of both - a sign that I may have an active infection and my immune system is - for once - fighting it.
A quick call to the oncologist, however, confirms the high white blood-cell count is probably just a result of the daily immune-boosting injections and everything is as it should be. Relief doesn't begin to describe how I feel that I don't have to go back to the hospital for another four days of being hooked to a drip and going to the toilet in a cardboard bowl!
Dec. 8-10: I spend a few days in London, visiting a nutritional therapist and seeing friends and family, and I'm so exhausted I end up going to bed at 8pm on a Saturday night. It's fair to say the cumulative effect of six rounds of chemo has left me more tired than ever and I'm pleased to head back to Yorkshire for a few nights of 12 hours' sleep.
Dec. 13: After about a month of having a very slight cough, the winter gets the better of me and I develop a full-blown, chesty, phlegmy cough and a painful sore throat. I wake up having largely lost my voice, and begin taking antibiotics. So much for having a super-strong immune system!
Dec. 17: It's almost three weeks after my final chemo and my hair is starting to look a little bit like that of a baby chick again. Amazingly, I even have some semblance of my beloved sideburns - I never thought I'd be so happy to see those sideburns again!
The nurse at the Christie says my baby-chick hair is likely to fall out before the real, tough stuff starts growing back, but it should begin to return for real about a month after my last chemo. Which brings us nicely to Christmas Day. A bit of stubble on my head - the best present Santa could bring!