Blog: The Big J vs The Big C

Making the breast of a bad situation ...
On 4 October 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This blog will chart my progress through treatment, and continued enjoyment of life, love and friendship.
​Expect humour, irreverance, occasional sadness, and staunch defence of the National Health Service.
​Btw, that picture is not me. :-)

The Price of Progress: Capitalism and Cancer

After my breast cancer surgery, the factors which indicate whether I would benefit from chemotherapy were inconclusive. There was one further test available. The Oncotype DX test examines the activity of 21 genes in the tumour tissue of patients with early-stage oestrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) invasive breast cancer and calculates whether chemo will be effective or not.

My score was low (14/100), and so, like many others since this test was developed a few years ago, I do not have to go through the puking, hair-losing agonies of fighting cancer by throwing poisons at it. So far, so good.

So, what’s the catch? My tumour had to be sent to the USA to be tested. This took a few weeks, which delayed the start of my radiotherapy, reducing its effectiveness of in preventing the cancer returning. Radiotherapy is supposed to start within six weeks of surgery; mine started twelve weeks after. Only time will reveal the impact of this delay – but it could mean that my cancer comes back when it would not have done so otherwise.

Radiotherapy Day One

Day 1 radiotherapy. Pleasant bus ride. Arrive early. Brought good book, as suggested by several people. The book is actually a course of writing exercises, so it will be accompanying me every day.

See radiotherapist. She's cool. Turns out she's the union rep (unions and lefty politics usually come up in conversation pretty quickly when I am the patient). 

Run through the forms and questions again. If I had a pound for every time I have told a member of medical staff my date of birth, I could probably buy a small pharmaceutical firm by now.

Women's Cancers and Work: what trade unions can do

Each year, there are over 55,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer in the UK, 3,000 new diagnoses of cervical cancer, over 7,000 of ovarian cancer, over 9,000 of uterine cancer, and over 1,000 of vulval cancer. Nearly 12,000 UK women die each year from breast cancer, over 4,000 from ovarian cancer, over 2,000 from uterine cancer, nearly 500 from vulval cancer, and nearly 900 from cervical cancer. 

1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime. Think of all the women you know: one in eight of them. Think of all the women in your workplace and in your trade union: one in eight of them.

Research has linked 4-5% of breast cancer cases to shift work, due to circadian (body clock) disruption and exposure to artificial light at night. Studies have shown that breast cancer risk is 21% higher in women who have ever experienced circadian disruption, mainly through night work, compared with those who have not. Exposure to certain substances at work also increases the risk of breast and other women's cancers.

Guest post: Veronica writes from her bed ...

The first of what I hope will be a regular feature, this guest post is from Veronica.

I just wanted to say how very much I am enjoying your blog.

I was diagnosed with grade 3 invasive ductal cancer in my left breast on 13 October so your story and experience are similar to mine - although I have just completed four cycles of pre-surgery chemotherapy which has been every bit as vile and debilitating as I feared. I am typing this from bed fully eight days after the last treatment and very annoyed not to be able to muster the energy for a gig tonight for which we bought tickets ages ago.

You don’t notice a lump growing in a big breast, do you, until it’s a real problem? I had the sentinel lymph node biopsy op on 4 November though and fortunately that was clear so I feel I have dodged a very big bullet.

Measuring Up to be Microwaved

Yesterday was my radiotherapy booking-in appointment. So, off I went to the basement of Bart's hospital to be fitted and measured.

Some more forms to fill in and consents to be signed - this time, consenting to have permanent marks made on my body. Until now, I have avoided having tattoos: it just doesn't appeal to me, though I've sometimes thought I might take it up in later life. Never did I consider that the design would be three small dots. But there you go: I'll think of it as abstract art.

Strip to the waist again, and put on this gown. I share the waiting area with a hairless woman and her two kids, a young adult daughter and a teenage-ish son. She's having radiotherapy to her brain. I ponder on how lucky I am.

Then it's off to the radiotherapy room, past a door marked "Mould Room": I think I'll stay out of there.

My team of three radiotherapists - two women and a man - are all friendly and kind. When I mention I'm a poet, they ask for an ode, and the only one that comes to mind is Jeremy Hunt. Really, you can't go wrong  having a go at Jeremy Hunt to NHS staff. My joke about sending my tumour to the USA goes down well too. "We've got a comedian here", they advise colleagues.

One Thing After Another

In my last treatment update post, I told of the two mysterious appointments in early January. Mysterious indeed. I turned up for the first one and discovered that both of them had been booked by mistake! 

Keen for the trip to Bart's not to have been a waste of time, I managed to come away armed with more test results, some pamphlets, a 3-month sick note and an invitation to a free massage whenever I want one. Result.

Reading one of the pamphlets - on food and drink during cancer treatment - I discovered that I have not been consuming enough alcohol. As an obedient and sensible patient, I resolve to address this shortcoming.

The tiredness, dizziness and headaches that began a week after starting Tamoxifen continued unabated. I ended up phoning the cancer nurses, who got back to me saying that the doctors want me to have a brain scan. I await the appointment. But of course, no sooner had I phoned up moaning about my side effects than said side effects abated!

Am I Fighting Cancer? Yes, But ...

"Fighting cancer"? It's a term often said but a matter of some discomfort and debate. I have been pummelling the punchbag of the issues, and here are my thoughts.

Yes, I am fighting cancer. It's a battle, and if you survive, you go through blood and bruises and can come out injured, physically and psychologically. And like a fighter, I spend a lot of my time stripped to the waist being attended to by medics!

You'll SHARE if you CARE

Today, little hearts have been appearing on Facebook walls. No message, no explanation, just a heart. Apparently this will help the fight against breast cancer. Huh?

Some undoubtedly well-meaning friends messaged me (and probably all their other friends) asking me to post said heart. Instead, I posted this:

Bllleeeuuurrrggghhhh Humbug

In my 20s, I would have spent most of New Year's Day in bed because I didn't go to bed until the Day was well under way. A little later, a hangover might have kept me in bed all day. Then with the advent of kids, no days could be spent in bed, least of all New Year's. Now I'm 50, New Year's Day has been spent largely in bed dealing with cancer treatment side effects.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Blog: The Big J vs The Big C