Tag Archives: health

The anxiety of moving forward

2015 was, among other things, the year of the house hunt for me.  I had been diligently saving my hard earned lawyer pennies and looking for the perfect house to buy.  I had very specific requirements, for example, I wanted an old house which had:

  • wooden floor boards throughout;
  • high ceilings, preferably with some decorative detail;
  • at least two decent sized bedrooms with another room for a study;
  • a kitchen sink under a window (who likes to stare at a wall when they’re washing the dishes?);
  • good bones that could be spruced up, without any real structural renovations required; and
  • the right price tag, within 8km of the city.

I really wanted to buy in Wembley, but after months of searching and finding nothing in my price range, I gave up.  In fact, after about six months of endless scrolling through realestate.com I gave up altogether.   Then one day, after a scrolling hiatus of a few months, I was eating lunch at my desk at work when I jumped online just to have a look and see what was around.  Encouraged by an ultrasound of my (then) suspect lump which (allegedly) revealed I only had a cyst, I thought it was the right time to see what was out there.

Much to my surprise, there was a perfect little house, in Wembley.  BUT, the price was definitely not right.  About $80,000 more than what I was looking to spend.  Still, buoyed by the fact that the house had failed to sell at auction, something told me that I needed to see this house.  It was OFI the next evening.  I had a mediation the day of the OFI and around 4.30pm I was getting a bit antsy.  I told the partner that I really needed the mediation to wrap up because I had to go and see a house that evening.  He was most confused, largely because I never left work early but also because although I had been talking about buying a house for many months, I had never attended a home open during the week.

But, attend I did.  I loved it.  It needed some serious TLC and a whole new kitchen and bathroom, but that wouldn’t stop me.  I flew to Melbourne the next morning for an awards evening for work and on my return on Sunday, I made an offer.  I made that offer in November 2015.  The settlement of the house occurred in late January 2016.  And then I was diagnosed.  All my plans to renovate and move into said little house flew out the window.  The house got a bit of a facelift and then was to be rented.  Luckily, it rented easily and I am grateful that I have good tenants who love living in my house.

IMG_1160

Here’s the thing.  I was supposed to live there.  As much as I love my Mum and my sister, it was time to move out.  Well, here we are 16 months after diagnosis.  I’m still living at home and my little house is still rented.

So many things, including my income, have changed since I bought the house, but I still want to renovate and live there.  I made the decision that if my tenants were taking a holiday any time this year, I’d tackle the bathroom as a first small step toward realising that goal.  Planning the renovation required me, however, to go back to the house and measure the (little) bathroom and (even littler) powder room.  Well, cue the anxiety.  The thought of living there or renovating can sometimes overwhelm me.  I can’t even explain it.  But the house represents so much of what was lost in the midst of treatment and recovery and it also scares me a little to do anything with it, given the timing of events last year.  I don’t like to think of the what-if’s, but sometimes its inevitable that they creep into my thoughts.

But, there’s a little quote that always sticks in my mind, ‘forward is forward no matter the speed’.  So today, I’m going tile shopping.  The bathroom reno is happening in September.  Time to start moving forward.

Krissy xx

The excitement of turning the corner

After a round of chemo, I am always waiting to ‘turn the corner’.

I didn’t quite know when that would be this round because docetaxel had such different side effects to FEC.  Tuesday was the day though.  After having to cancel all my long weekend plans (another long weekend lost to chemo) and spending the best part of Saturday, Sunday and Monday resting/ comatose on the couch with aching bones, I woke up on Tuesday feeling so much better.  I managed to leave the house for the first time and get back into the kitchen, which is always a sure fire sign that I’m feeling better.

Once I’ve turned the corner, there are still things that linger to remind me that I’ve just had a fair dose of toxic chemicals injected into me.  This time around those reminders are things like a super dry mouth and throat, terribly interrupted sleep at night, the ever persistent hot flushes (particularly at night), super dry skin and some general tiredness and crankiness.  Definitely no picnic, but tolerable.  I have little things I do to help overcome all the problems of chemo, but I rarely share tips, so I thought I’d give you a few:

  • to fix a dry mouth – I brush my teeth at least three times a day and rinse with Oral 7, which was recommended by my dentist;
  • to try and get a better nights sleep – I try and exercise, mostly just a walk, most days to make myself physically tired and having a herbal tea before bed is always a good idea;
  • to combat the hot flushes – well to be honest not much helps, but layering and taking vitamin e supplements goes some way to making things cooler;
  • to keep dry skin at bay – moisturise, moisturise, moisturise using a heavy, scent free moisturiser like a vitamin e cream available at pharmacies;
  • to feel less nauseous – the only thing that really works for me is carbohydrates like toast and hot chips (I often compare myself to a pregnant woman that is having cravings!); and
  • to fix everything else – just walk and keep on walking! It’s good for bones, general fitness and to help with the ever dreaded nausea and fatigue.

For me, in addition to all the little things I do, a big part of feeling ‘normal’ is making my face and head look ‘normal’.  People are always absolutely gob smacked when they meet me to find out that I’m currently having treatment.  People often tell me that I don’t look sick at all.  And while that really is quite the compliment, there’s a lot that goes in to looking ‘normal’ everyday.

First of all, I’m lucky to have a fabulous wig.  It fools so many who think I’ve just had a nice blow dry.  The wig is a big part of looking normal.  But when I’m not in my wig, I usually wear a yankees cap (to compliment my ‘activewear’ look) or one of a number of turbans/ beanies I’ve collected.  Here’s me from no make-up no hair to ‘normal’.

And, here I am in a selection of other ‘looks’.

With the head covered, lets talk about make up.  For me, my hourglass eyebrow pencil is the ultimate in face pick me ups.  My eyebrows are not all lost, but I have far, far less eyebrows than before.  The hourglass eye pencil fills in my brows and frames my face.  It even fooled my surgeon who told me I could have a job as a makeup artist in my next life.  Unlikely, but thanks Corinne.  Add eyeliner, powder, bronzer and blush and I go from pale to golden glow in no time.  Here are some of the products I love to use.

Finally, a big part of turning the corner is the ability to get back to exercising.  I know I bang on about its benefits quite a bit, but if you watched that episode of Catalyst which explored the current trial being conducted in Perth into how targeted exercise can help fight cancer, you would understand.  Didn’t see that episode?  You can watch it here.  Anyway, after my last blog post one of my cousins suggested I see an exercise physiologist.  So, off I went to the Functional Rehabilitation Clinic in Shenton Park.  I’d like to tell you that the exercise physiologist told me something I didn’t already know, but it was more a confirmation of what I already know.  Weight bearing exercise is best, particularly walking.  Things like netball and basketball are good too.  After a quick chat we got stuck in to some exercise – mostly legs for the first session, but I’m back on Tuesday so I’ll be sure to share any other pearls of wisdom with you all.  I’m going to build a program of targeted exercises to add to my walking.  Should be fun.

Somehow it’s Friday again, so wishing everyone a fab weekend.

Krissy xx

 

 

 

 

Putting things on ice

I suspect that this blog post will get people talking.  In fact, it has had me talking.  Fertility is a hot topic amongst women my age at the best of times, and we, me included, all have views about fertility and children. Deeply personal views, might I add.  And so I caveat this entire post by saying that this is probably my most personal post.  Writing about my ‘boobies’ is all pretty personal, but sharing decisions about fertility seems even more so.  So, in my usual honest way, I am going to share my thoughts and my decision with you, but this is just my decision and it certainly won’t be right for others, just me.

You now all know that I always wanted to have three kids.  But, that was pre-cancer.  Post diagnosis, I am not so sure.  And following a visit to the excellent fertility specialist, Dr Doreen Yeap, the only thing I am now sure of is that I don’t want to play with my body too much.

Options

Dr Yeap explained to me that I essentially have four options:

  1. Freeze my eggs using IVF – in vitro fertilisation where matured eggs are removed before being frozen. *
  2. Freeze my eggs using IVM – in vitro maturation where immature eggs are removed and matured in the lab before being frozen.
  3. Have zoladex injections to shut down my ovaries during treatment.
  4. Do nothing.

My rant

Of course, these decisions would all be less complicated if I had managed to have some babies.  But of course, I haven’t.  I never found the right man, I never made the time… blah, blah, blah.  To all the women out there that think there’s plenty of time for these things, to the extent that you have the ability to decide when to have babies (i.e. you’ve been lucky enough to find someone you might like to have babies with), have them.  Don’t wait.  Dr Yeap told me that the average age of women in her clinic is 37.5. Most of the women she sees? Lawyers, doctors and engineers. Enough said.

So it seems that in five years when, God willing, I am finished with chemo, radiotherapy and tamoxifin, I will fit right in to Dr Yeap’s demographic.  The big question is will I need to see her and will I want to see her?

Decisions, decisions, decisions

The biggest difficulty I have is that I have an oestrogen positive cancer.  So, what precisely does nine months of raging hormones, including oestrogen, do to my body? No one knows for sure if it provokes a recurrence of the cancer, but, Dr Yeap and my oncologist, Dr Ru-Wen Teh, tell me that its a risk.  A risk that to me isn’t particularly palatable, not now anyway.  Who knows if I’ll feel differently when I’m older and, with any luck, married.  But I don’t want to close off the option of having a biological child entirely.  I just don’t want to play with fire too much.

So then, what is the answer?  Freezing my eggs, whether with IVF or IVM (which I would be a candidate for only because I have polycystic ovarian syndrome) will require me to undergo IVF at the end of my long treatment journey.  IVF has helped many people have children and I think it is a wonderful service.  I just don’t think it’s for me – so many hormones, so much provocation.

Instead, I am going to have the zoladex injections and wait.  I’m going to have the injections, take the tamoxifin (for five years at least) and then see what my body wants to do at the end of all that.  I wonder if I will regret the choice if in five years time if I can’t have children.  I don’t have a crystal ball, so I really don’t know.  What I do know is that my head and my heart are aligned and neither are telling me to freeze my eggs.  I have also always been open to the idea of adopting, so that also gives me a level of comfort. What’s not to love about giving a child in need a home?

Resources and donations

As I was editing this post, I received a call from the breast care nurse at St John of God.  What a wonderful service the breast care nurses provide.  They have given me so much information about everything from physios, to support groups to a free bra and soft form (that cotton wool thing that resembles a breast) to emotional support to recommendations of good plastic surgeons, and everything in between.  I often ask them the most ridiculous of questions, but they’re so patient and helpful!

Which brings me to my final point.  Everyone has been so very kind and generous in the past month.  But I often wonder about those women (and men) who have breast cancer and don’t have the huge and awesome support network that I have.  What do they do? What do the single mothers who are trying to juggle work, treatment and kids do?  What do elderly women without family around them do?  They rely on all the excellent resources (I hope) that are available to assist them.  Organisations such as:
Solaris Care
Breast Cancer Network Australia
The McGrath Foundation
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Cancer Council WA

All of these organisations have already helped me and I have only been on this road for one month.  So, next time you wonder what you might do with some free time you have or a few spare dollars you need to spend, particularly before the end of financial year, give a thought to donating either your time or your money to one of the many organisations that help so many people.

Much love,
Krissy xx

* Want to know more about freezing your eggs? I read this Marie Claire article which is actually a pretty accurate summary (I think). In a nutshell, you’re looking at about $10,000 for either IVF or IVM and could get anywhere between 5 to 15 eggs to freeze.  Sometimes its entirely successful and sometimes the eggs don’t thaw that well at all.  I’m told that if you freeze 10 eggs, you should get one viable embryo.

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!

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.