Ever since I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer (the incurable kind) I knew there would be dark places on this journey, and times when the path would take turns for the worse. I talk to people all the time about this and they think I'm educating them about it. However, the truth is I'm reminding myself that it's going to happen, putting myself under the illusion that if I'm prepared in this way, it will make it easier when it does... I'm wrong though, nothing makes it easier.
It was all the way back on 5 February when I got the news that my latest chemotherapy wasn't working anymore and the cancer had gone nuts, you can read more here.
My wonderful oncologist gives you news in layers, starting with the basics first and depending on how you cope he adds more layers of details on top. In that appointment I was so shocked by the news that I operated on a 'only the basic details needed' basis. However, in the following four weeks I became quite curious: how much cancer was in my lungs? How much liquid is in the lining of my lungs (pleural effusion)? Was it even on both sides or was one side more than the other?
My next appointment with the great man was on the third March and I went along armed with a load of questions and my stepmum for support. I always have a strict 'don't ask questions you don't want the answers to' policy and I knew I was breaking it, but I was so curious. Unfortunately, it turns out if I had been honest there were definitely some answers I didn't want.
The Prof listened to my lungs and determined that the pleural effusion was slight and hadn't got any worse. My blood results came up on the computer and showed I was well enough for chemo-therapy, which is always good to hear!
He didn't show me the biochemistry results - which would show how the bones and the liver were doing - but he said they were holding their own. I suspect they weren't that great but as I mentioned before he tells me as little as I need to know sometimes. If I'd pushed him he would have shown me, but to be honest I didn't need to know, it wouldn't change anything.
The big shocker for me was when I asked to see my scans, we were starting to run out of time a bit but he did show me quickly. The first thing I saw was the cancer in the lungs, which was even with similar levels of small cancer on each side, and also there were lots of liver tumours but all small. Is that good or bad? I'm not sure.
The big shock, and what made me realise it has been a long time since I've looked at one of my scans, is when I saw the scan in full, of my whole upper body. I looked like I was wearing a very spotty T-shirt. There were so many tumours all over my ribs, back, lungs, liver, arms and pelvis. I think the Prof saw the blood drain from my face so quickly chipped in they weren't all active as many were old ones. But he did show me some pretty big tumours though my pelvis area and made a passing comment: 'you don't have any in your abdomen, well nothing worth mentioning'. Gulp...
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. All I could see when I closed my eyes was the image of my upper body, and the phrase 'riddled with cancer' rang in my ears.
I had an appointment with my counsellor the next day. She works out of my hospital so had access to my notes. It was the toughest appointment with her I've had so far. It was a watershed appointment, the time to accept that my life as it was is over forever. I will never be the active, energetic go getter I was, I won't ever have enough energy to do all that. Even if we get to a break from chemo and go back with a stronger one that gets me to a stable position, my bones are too damaged, my body too weak from all the drugs, my body too weak from all the cancer.
I can't deny anymore that this isn't just getting steadily worse, my path is starting to hit a steeper downhill section. That's a very hard and bitter pill to swallow, no one wants to admit this is really happening, and was it really happening to me?
My counsellor suggests I start to get to know my hospice better, spend more time there and familiarise myself with them. It is suggested that it will help me as it will make me see that I'm still healthy and doing well in their eyes. I've only been there once and that was very hard as I wrote about in this blog.
To say I got a bit depressed after these two appointments would be an understatement, but it was a big fat dose of reality that was needed so I could make the changes I needed to make to my life. Sign my will, cancel any remaining consulting contracts and relationships and make a very hard decision I'll talk about in a separate blog.
My stepmom was my angel through this time and I was so glad she was there, I think I was only strong enough to do it because she was there. So I dedicate this blog to her, I love you and can't thank you enough for coming to look after me. Xx
For more information about secondary breast cancer, visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk/secondary