Monthly Archives: February 2016

Sleeping ovaries and insurance policies

The decisions I have been required to make since 1 February have, for the most part, been no brainers.  Decisions which I have not faltered at making because, for the most part, they are decisions which will, God willing, save my life.

This week, I met with my oncologist and also my radiotherapy oncologist.  Both sing from the same song book and confirmed that chemotherapy and radiotherapy are recommended given the presence of cancer in one of my lymph nodes, the size of the cancer in my breast and my age.  Those three things puts me in a medium to high risk category of the cancer coming back, so I’m told that chemo and radiotherapy are like insurance policies.*  To give myself the very best shot at a full recovery.  Ok.  More no brainer decisions. Yes to chemo and yes to radiotherapy.

I am acutely aware that both treatments could be unpleasant.  Chemo has the obvious ramifications – hair loss (probably three weeks after my first treatment), tiredness, nauseouness/ vomiting, loss of appetite/ food tasting gross, nails getting weak etc. Radiotherapy equally has unpleasant bits – burns, skin peeling and epic tiredness.  All of which I think I am prepared for.* *

The most difficult part about my treatment is not deciding what to do to treat the cancer, but rather, what to do about decisions that could impact my life post cancer.  Particularly, decisions about my fertility.  Not really no brainer decisions.  You see, I have always wanted kids.  Three to be precise.  What then do you do when you’re 31 (knocking on the door of 32), single and about to start chemo which has a 50% chance of putting you into early menopause?  My pragmatic self tells me just to get on with things and see how my body recovers from the treatment.  My emotional self tells me to think again.

I can hear you asking, what are the options? Surely there are options.  And of course, there are.  I could harvest my eggs.  Pretty tricky as I understand it and I would have to be pumped with hormones before it was even possible.  Not terribly palatable given my cancer is hormone receptor positive.  The other option is to put my ovaries to sleep. My oncologist tells me this is pretty simple and will require an injection every time I have a round of chemotherapy and then each month thereafter until I want to wake my ovaries up.  I’m told it won’t interfere with my treatment at all. It all sounds so simple and I guess in theory it is.  Practically, not so easy. To help me make the right decision, I’m seeing a fertility specialist on Monday. And so my ever expanding medical team continues to grow. For now, I’m still not quite sure what I’m going to do.  But, full and frank is what these posts are all about, so I’ll be sure to let you know once I’ve made up my mind.

Oh and I’ve also learnt this week that generally, specialists don’t call you with good news.  Only bad.  I got back the pathology results from my axillary clearance and all my lymph nodes (bar the one bugger they took out as part of my sentinel node biopsy) were clear. Phew and hooray!  I like good news and that was the best damn news I heard all week.

IMG_0767In other good news, I am recovering well from the surgeries and have so much more energy this week than I did last week.  I have managed full days without a nana nap and have been out and about trying to live as normally as possible. I even went for my first walk yesterday, at Floreat Beach, where I snapped this picture.   I have another three weeks to complete my recovery, get back to normal, enjoy the sunshine, get to the last of Fringe and the Perth Festival and turn 32 before my chemo starts on 23 March.

Until next time,
Krissy xx

*Speaking of insurance – have you got yours in place?  It’s never too early to make sure that your life insurance and income protection insurance are adequate.  Income protection in particular is super important and I would encourage everyone to ensure their level of cover is adequate. It is never too early.  Even if you don’t yet have a mortgage, debts etc. If you spend most of your income, get income protection, or check if your superannuation provides a base level of protection which you can top up.

** Remind me of this sentence when I’m deep in treatment and not so optimistic!

Are we out of the woods yet?

It occurred to me when I posted a picture of myself trying on a wig at the Cancer Council’s wig service (on Facebook and Insta), that whilst I now have a pretty clear idea of what the months ahead hold for me, many others may not.

Given I am only in my early thirties and the size of my breast cancer and the fact that there was cancer present in one of my lymph nodes, I am at a pretty high risk of recurrence.  For that reason, and others that I’m sure will become clearer after I meet with my radiotherapist on Wednesday and my oncologist on Friday, I have to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  After all of that, as my breast cancer is hormone receptor positive, I will probably have to take a drug call tamoxifen to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back.

So, the treatment road ahead isn’t particularly short.  But I am onboard.  I want to do everything in my power to try and make sure that I am cancer free and remain that way.

So, whilst I’m not yet out of the woods or in the clear (thanks Taylor Swift for your catchy tune that seems to always be playing on the radio when I’m on my way to a hospital admission or appointment), I am getting closer.  Chemo might suck, but then again, it might not.  Who knows?  All I know is that it’s necessary for me and I’m trying to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically as best I can. As any good litigator would know, it’s all about preparation, preparation, preparation!

As part of that preparation, my little sister Thalia and I went to the Cancer Council’s wig service today to choose a wig and some turbans in the event that I lose my hair.  It was so nice to go with my sister who has volunteered at the wig service in the past.  What an excellent service the Cancer Council provides.  It was super easy to find a few things that I liked.  I also realised whilst I was at the wig service that the Cancer Council provides a lodge for people from the country that need to attend Perth for treatment.  Another excellent service that people can access, as necessary.

As for the rest of the preparation, I’m trying to eat lots of fruit and veggies and I’ve recently started juicing to get in as much goodness as quickly as I can.  I am an absolute juicing novice, but luckily have received a great book from friends in London and am working my way through the recipes in the Nutribullet book and I Quit Sugar.  Mental and emotional prep is ongoing.

I’ll know on Friday when I have to start chemo and what type of chemo I’m going to need, so I’ll be sure to update everyone after that.

Until then, I’ll leave you with some pictures of me at the wig service today.

Krissy xx

PS – any good juice or smoothie recipes are most welcome.

 

Ground hog day

Hello lovely readers!

Photo on 18-02-2016 at 11.32 amFirstly, I wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone that has read my blog.  It’s actually a really nice feeling to know that there are people all over the world (Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Greece, Italy, Germany, UK, Canada and the US) who are interested in my story and also (hopefully) getting a little education on all things breast cancer along the way.

Clearing the left axilla

Since the last post I’ve had my second surgery (which I was hoping to avoid).  A clearance of my left axilla.  The surgery was somewhat more involved than my mastectomy and I am now without lymph nodes under my left arm.  Post surgery, I have lost some sensation in the top of my left arm and under my left arm (normal).  My arm is also a little swollen  (though I’m told this too is normal).  I’ve been given a bunch of exercises to do by the physio to assist with movement and swelling, so hopefully they help. My biggest concern with having the surgery was the possibility of getting lymphodoema or losing feeling in my arm, so please say a prayer that neither of these occur. So far, so good.

Business as usual

Other than that, it’s sort of business as usual.  This visit feels much like my last visit, last week.  The routine of hospital life is pretty easy to slip into.  Observations, awkward showering to avoid wetting my dressings, ordering your next (slightly edible) meal, talking to the residents and surgeon, visits from the breast care nurse and of course, visits from family and friends.  Hospital days are actually relatively busy.  But the mornings are generally visitor free, so I’ve been resting, catching up on the Kardashians and writing this short post.

A visit from the pastor 

Amongst other services that SJOG offers, a member of the pastoral care team comes to visit you (if you allow them) when you’re in the hospital.  The visit was good and I was reminded that having cancer takes you on both a medical and emotional journey.  And it’s true.  As much as it’s easy to write about the medical stuff and the funny things that happen in between, it’s much harder to talk about and write about what is going on with my emotions.  Crying is pretty normal and I sometimes get a bit snappy.  Apologies here have to go to my family, particularly my Mum, because I’m often most snappy at home and most snappy about stupid things.  It has also been a change to rely on others so much. I am generally very independent and a slight control freak (my sisters words), so relinquishing control and accepting help can be a little challenging, though I am learning.  In between all of that, laughter has been important.  It makes me feel so much better.  So, if you know a funny story…

Selfies

I have also spent an inordinate amount of time today trying to take a selfie in my hospital bed.  Turns out, I’m pretty crap at taking selfies, particularly when in my pyjamas and without a blow dry or my trusty makeup!  Nonetheless, the point of this blog is to raise awareness and to give everyone an honest picture of the goings on of someone fighting BC. So, todays picture comes to you from my hospital bed at St John of God.  I was lucky enough to wash my hair today, so I’m fluffy haired and make up free.

Time for a little rest now.  Just doing a few things makes me pretty tired, so I’m signing off.

Until next time,
Krissy xPhoto on 18-02-2016 at 12.05 pm

PS – thanks to the women at the Bandyup Women’s Prison and Zonta Clubs of District 23, Area 3 for providing this awesome cushion.  It sits just under my arm and provides some comfort from the pain of the surgery.

The one breasted unicorn

It’s been  an eventful few days since my last blog post.  I had my mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy on Monday and today received my path results.

Surgery 1

IMG_0670.jpgI was ready for the surgery and ready to take the first step of my treatment journey.

The most painful part of the whole surgical day was the injection I had to get the morning of my surgery to allow the radiologist to find one of my lymph nodes.  My cancer (warning graphic content coming up) was in my nipple, so the injection had to be placed in my nipple.  Talk about stingy.  I nearly jumped off the bed!  Luckily it was over in a matter of minutes.  On went an ‘X’ to mark the spot of the node and off I went to surgery.

My surgeon, Dr Corinne Jones and her team (Leah, Brenno and all the others) were all fantastic and had me at ease from the beginning.  Of course, with the power of anaesthetic I was off with the fairies shortly after my anaesthetist told me that he was just ‘injecting some fluid’ into my canula.

Post surgery and I was up and walking about (ok, walking to the bathroom so as to avoid the need for a catheter) the same day.  The nurses and the doctors at SJOG Subiaco took good care of me post surgery and kept me adequately medicated to keep the pain at bay.  Most of the pain really is just in the drains that you have to have to drain excess fluid away.  Once those came out on Wednesday, I felt much better.  I now just have to wear a bandage that comes with a little pump – to keep me nice and compressed.

My recovery has been made all the better by the well wishes, phone calls, texts, messages and social media love that I have received from my family and friends.  I am so very blessed to have amazing family and friends and I couldn’t imagine going through this without them (you).  Also, to all my friends and work colleagues with excellent florists on speed dial, thank you.  My hospital room was beautified by many floral arrangements that were not only beautiful but also reminded me of how lucky I am to have friends and family, near and far, who are with me on this journey.

Since the surgery life has pretty much returned to normal, although I am super tired and have been sleeping quite a lot.  I’ve become fond of the old nanna nap this week.

Paget’s disease of the nipple

I got my pathology results today.  The pathology confirmed that my lump was, in fact, 4 centimetres of cancer. Yuk.  My pathology results also confirmed that the breast cancer I have is called paget’s disease of the nipple.  It’s a rare form of breast cancer with only 2 out of 100 breast cancer cases involving paget’s.  What should you look for?

  • a lump near the nipple/ nipple becoming hard;
  • a lumpy or crusty appearance on your nipple/ areola – it may look like eczema or a rash;
  • redness of the nipple/ lump;
  • the nipple might flatten out, or invert (I just came to think of this sign as the cancer taking over the nipple); and
  • itchiness or the lump feeling sore.

Time to check your nipples out, ladies (and gents).  If you notice anything irregular, consult your GP.

More surgery…

My pathology also revealed that one of my lymph nodes has mini specs of cancer present on it.  To make sure I give myself the very best chance and for preventative reasons, I’m going to have an axiliary clearance, which basically means they will take all the lymph nodes out of my left armpit (glamorous, I know) on Tuesday.  Another surgery, but slightly shorter than the last surgery.  Hopefully the last surgery for some time.  All prayers ahead of surgery are most welcome.

Am I really a one breasted unicorn?!

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the title of this post, inspired by a  small unicorn which one of my sister’s friends bought for my little niece, I’ve started calling myself the one breasted unicorn.  Lucky for me, my friends at Berlie designed an excellent post surgery bra.  I got the bra from the Breast Cancer Network Australia in ‘My Care Kit’ – thanks BCNA.  Now I can just slip some cotton wool like stuffing (ok, technically its called a ‘soft form’) into the bra and voila, you wouldn’t even know that I am a one breasted unicorn.

Until next time,
Krissy xx

PS – my editor in chief (my brilliant little sister Thalia) suggested that I might like to let you all know how I’m feeling and also suggested that this post was a little ‘clinical’.  But, ‘clinical’ is really how I deal with my BC.  When I receive any new information (i.e. you’ll need an auxiliary clearance), I take a moment, have a good old cry, process the information, usually assess the risks and then get on with it.  Positivity is key and I try to remain positive and see the silver linings in everything, small as they may sometimes be!

The big ‘C’

Hello and welcome!

Before I get going with this, my first blog post, I have a few confessions to make.  Firstly, I have never blogged before and am a very plain English writer.  Secondly, I’m not very funny.  You might be asking then, why a blog?  Lots of reasons, actually.  My primary reason for writing this blog though is to raise some awareness about breast cancer and to let you all know that it can present in anyone, at any time.  No one is immune.  I am after all only 31.  Also, I figure this will be a great way to give people updates as my treatment progresses.  One final note before we get into things, this blog is going to be pretty real.  It’s hard to have a blog about your boobs any other way though…

My story

I am a 31 year old construction lawyer from Perth, Western Australia.  I have been fortunate to have a pretty terrific life until now.  I have a large (and suitably loud!) Greek family, a beautiful little niece, a most wonderful group of friends, terrific work colleagues and a job that has provided me with much professional satisfaction (plus a bit of stress and no doubt a few grey hairs).

I spent my twenties studying, working and using all my free time and savings to travel. No regrets.  Every trip was worth absolutely every penny.  Even now as I sit writing this, my mind wanders off to far away travel destinations.  For now though, my feet are firmly on the ground.

Finding the lump

Apparently, it always happens this way.  I decided one morning in October last year to blow dry my hair straight after jumping out of the shower.  As I blow dried my hair, I noticed something unusual about my left breast in the mirror.  ‘That’s not how it usually looks’, I thought. And just like that, I discovered a lump.

Between busy days at work I booked an appointment with my GP.  ‘It looks just like a cyst’, she said.  ‘Its very uncommon for girls your age to get cancer’.  ‘Don’t worry about it’.  So far, so good.  Nonetheless, I wanted to be sure so was referred for an ultrasound and biopsy.

My first visit to the radiologist brought more of the same re-assurance.  My lump was ‘consistent with a sebaceous cyst’.  No biopsy for me though because the radiologists were concerned about ‘infections’.  Back to the GP for a course of antibiotics (which did absolutely nothing).

Third visit to the GP.  Given my lump wasn’t going away, I wanted a referral to see a breast surgeon.  The lump was coming out, even if the GPs kept reassuring me that it would go away with time (which of course, it hasn’t).

After a Christmas break on the East Coast, I finally had my appointment with my breast surgeon on 14 January.  Not quite as quick to dismiss my lump as a ‘cyst’, the specialist wanted me to get a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.  More tests.

On 27 January, I was back in my three armed gown (why on earth do those things need three arms?!) for my tests.   During the mammogram I sensed that things weren’t quite right, something was off.  When the radiologist told me that my lump was ‘most unusual’, I realised that this ‘cyst’ could really be something much more sinister.

Diagnosis

Once the tests were complete, I had to wait for the results.  I was booked in to see my specialist the next Wednesday.  So on Monday 1 February when the specialist’s assistant called me and told me that the specialist wanted to see me later that day, I immediately knew there was a problem.  Of the cancerous variety.  After what seemed like an eternity, I spoke to my specialist at 5.30 on Monday night.  Breast cancer.  Oh shit.  On the plus side, my breast cancer is hormone (progesterone and oestrogen) positive, which the specialist tells me is good news.  Silver linings.

And just like that, my life changed.  I’m not quite sure at the moment what lies ahead, but I know that I am positive and absolutely determined to beat this, whatever it takes.  Step 1, surgery.  Tomorrow.

Big love,
Krissy xx

PS – ladies, go check your boobies right now.  Feel em up, get right in there.  Have a good look in the mirror, too.  Gents, encourage your ladies to examine regularly.  And please, if you think something isn’t right, listen to your gut, it will always tell you when to persist. Intuition can save your life, trust it.

PPS – props to my cousin Nathan for inspiring the name of this blog in a message he sent me after I was diagnosed.