In the midst of all the talk of breast cancer awareness and all things pink this month, many of us can only think about the residual side effects of all the surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy we had to treat our breast cancer. If you haven’t checked out the #BreastCancerRealityCheck campaign there is still some time left to join. I haven’t heard any media discussing these realities thus far and certainly haven’t heard much discussion on the possibility of recurrence or metastases. Similar to Cancer?…Why? is there anything we can do to recognise if or when a recurrence occurs?
About four years after my first cancer diagnosis I remember developing symptoms that required a hospital referral. The Consultant at the time seemingly concerned with my history, warned me that if cancer was there he would need to do radical surgery. At the time I told him that it wasn’t cancer because I felt too well. I remembered what it was like to have cancer.
It turned out to be an ovarian cyst.
After my recurrence I reflected on that time. How was I so self possessed, blithely dismissing a Consultant’s concerns? Maybe it was a form of denial but I know that at the time I felt really healthy compared to before my initial diagnosis. My tumour was grade 3 and poorly differentiated, that means that the cells were dividing at a fast rate or more commonly called”aggressive”. The upside (if there is an upside) of having an aggressive tumour means that I knew something wasn’t right. I was so physically exhausted that I hadn’t the energy to get out of the car after driving home from work some evenings. I had every minor ailment going. When I did notice a breast lump it was just another irritating thing to get checked out. I was beginning to think the doctor might be wondering if I might be a hypochondriac as I visited him at least once a month for six months prior to my diagnosis.
Fast forward thirteen years. Approximately seven to eight months prior to my recurrence diagnosis, I thought I noticed “The Look” what I call my cancer face. I quickly dismissed it as poor lighting and changed my make up. We returned from holiday and I didn’t feel rested. Nothing sinister you might suggest, as many of us say we need another holiday to recover from our holiday. Around October I noticed what felt like a hive and I then started taking notice. I had problems with hives around the time I was first diagnosed. “Is it?”or “Isn’t it?” played around in my head for about a week and then the hive was gone. I did tell Hubby and half-jokingly said if I find a lump in six months we know what it is. Life moved on and I got a viral illness in November and kept working. Next came a sinus infection that was awful and then on top of that a kidney infection. Hubby mentioned I looked the worst he has seen me in awhile. You can guess how well that went down! I recovered as one does and continued on working and parenting and taxi-ing the kids here and there. In January I noticed a swollen node, had an ultrasound which was normal except the swollen nodes were actually in both sides. I was starting to think I was a hypochondriac again and felt like I was looking for trouble.
Then… oh,then… the next month I found a lump, right on my old scar line. At this stage there were birthdays and other family stuff going on so I didn’t tell Hubby straight away. I waited a couple of weeks and arranged an appointment to see a doctor. As I waited outside his office I felt I was wasting everyone’s time, however after the doctor examined me I knew by him that he was concerned. This time I was not confident. It was like a series of clicks as the jigsaw came together. I still remained hopeful but I was officially diagnosed in April, had surgery in May and commenced chemo in June.
It has taken me nearly four years to recover this time. As the days pass I am slowly regaining a bit of the old me. I am grateful for that as there was a time that I felt I would never feel well again.
Our bodies try to tell us when something isn’t right. As I tried to explain to my Oncologist about my “hives” and that I felt they could be linked but I couldnt find any research to substantiate any correlation with the onset of my cancer. He didn’t dismiss my theory and, to paraphrase, he said he would always listen to a patient and what their intuition is telling them. ( My Oncologist is one of the great ones! Bless.. Good vs Great Oncologist) I always looked after my health since my initial diagnosis and mostly used the two-week rule if I had any concerns. Despite all that I was still shocked at the diagnosis of my recurrence. Unfortunately the onset of cancer is insidious and what was worse for me was that I was blindsided into a false sense of security because it was so long since my initial diagnosis.
I don’t know if I can offer much advice to anyone starting off except to listen to your body. Care for yourself, become self-aware, do whatever you need to do to achieve a healthy body and mind. If it doesn’t feel right after about two weeks check it out. Keep checking until you get an answer. My recurrence tumour was quite small at 5mm and I am grateful that I got it checked out. A recurrence is a recurrence no matter what its size but at least in my situation, it was treatable. So maybe the slogan “Early detection saves lives” could be changed to “Early detection prolongs Lives” or “Buys Time” as it kicks the can down the road for hopefully another long while.
That’s all we can hope for isn’t it?