Everyone has their dates; the dates etched in to your memory banks. On 8 January 2007, my 39th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today is five years exactly from that date and within that time, I have done a lot but I have also had breast cancer twice. It has been a full on five years and it felt like a significant (birth) day this year.
My hope is for a healthy five years to come and I have lots of goals and things to achieve.
I am off to the cancer reatreat tomorrow http://www.eft-emofree.com/cancer-retreat.html so will send updates from that. We will be following the Ian Gawler http://www.gawler.org/ eating and juicing programme for a week and doing. It’s not too late to register if you are interested.
Now that chemo has been and gone, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on this:
What went well
- As I had done chemo before, I kind of knew what to expect. This has its pluses and minuses but I knew what was coming and how to ‘do’ chemo.
- So I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. I made arrangements not to work through chemo (as I worked through it last time and I found it too hard). Chemo and recovery from it became ‘my job’ and it was much more achievable –for me- than doing chemo while working.
- One of the Oncology Nurses told me that the women who worked during chemo often had more side effects due to the increased fatigue. Last time I did chemo, I had almost every side effect in the book and felt unwell for many months, fully recovering three years after the diagnosis. This time, I rested when I was feeling sick or tired. I didn’t need to deliver outputs while feeling nauseous and that worked better for me.
- Another side of working is that there is a distraction from cancer and the treatments. Last time I did chemo, it felt good to go into work and feel normal so to speak for a few hours. But this time, I didn’t need the distraction and I found that I have processed cancer and its impacts a bit quicker. The positive side of that is that I can now move on faster as my energy is returning faster than last time.
- This time, I have focused on my health rather than trying to think about everyone else. Last time, I constantly worried about letting down colleagues at work when I was feeling ill. This time, I removed that stress and just faced each day as it came. If I felt up to it, I would walk on the beach. If not, I would rest. If I felt up to a coffee with a friend, I would do it. But there was nothing I had to do. I could listen to my body and give it the rest it required. I feel quite lucky to have had this opportunity.
- I had an amazing Oncologist who I could email. She changed my anti-nausea medications when the first ones didn’t work.
- I also developed a great relationship with my Oncology Nurse. It is vital as you have to talk about the most personal things with your Nurse.
- I chose not to live alone during chemo (as I was flatting on my own prior to the diagnosis). I was fortunate enough to be able to move in with my parents and have extra help and support. When you feel sick constantly, it is nice to have company and help with the practical stuff.
- I was also fortunate to have a group of friends and family who walked beside me during the chemo. It is no secret that many people can’t relate to chemo and just disappear from your life. There was always someone to go to appointments with me or debrief with. I am very lucky and very grateful to my support crew.
- It is always good to talk to others going through chemo. It is sanity as doing chemo can make you feel like you’re on a different planet. So talking to others on that planet is wonderful.
- I did chemo. After my first experience of chemo, I never thought I could face it again. It was one of the worst times of my life. So I was proud of myself for going through it again. And I know that I have no regrets. If I get cancer again, at least I know that I did everything I could have to prevent it from recurring.
- I pretty much stayed away from groups of people so that I wouldn’t catch any viruses due to my compromised immune system. I was fortunate not to catch any major bugs
- Support. I utilised a range of support services to just get me through the chemo e.g. art therapy, talking to Cancer Society staff and having massages.
- I was able to communicate on how things were going through my chemo diary. It’s a good thing to do.
- If I had to do chemo, I did it pretty much MY way. It worked for me overall. Though of course, I would have preferred to be spending my time doing other things.
What didn’t go well
- At the beginning of chemo, I had a Nurse that wasn’t helping me very much. I was lucky enough to change to the care of a different one and that was a good achievement.
- The first chemo cycle was a bit of a disaster. It was the cliché of chemo with vomiting and feeling the worst. Most people cope well with the standard cycle of chemo and medications. I seem to react strongly to a lot of things and had an awful time, leading me to waste time feeling upset and re-questioning whether to keep going with chemo. Luckily, I was put on to a new anti-nausea medication which was excellent.
- I did get a little upset about some people disappearing from my life during chemo. But realised that there are different types of friends and also, some people are just not emotionally equipped to face someone going through cancer (for many reasons). There are lots of people who do understand so I’ll just stick with them.
- The side effects were difficult. Feeling physically sick makes me feel quite emotional so it can be like being on an emotional see saw. Also small pressures feel big when you are feeling under the weather.
What I learned
- If I had to do chemo again, I have the courage to face it all over again.
- Having to go through a health scare twice in five years does make me think that I need to take life a bit more seriously or put it this way, ensure that I am living a great life.
- Support of friends and family when you are ill means everything.