I just had my thirteenth Herceptin cycle. I only have four more to go…and that will be one year of Herceptin (or two years of Herceptin if we are strictly counting).
It went well. I get quite tired from the Herceptin and feel like I’ve got a hangover for five days afterwards. My main issues are headaches and migraines. On a good week, I have 1-2 mild headaches and on a bad week, one migraine and a few headaches. The trick with these is that they don’t respond to painkillers. I think they are a special type of Herceptin headache. They are enough to stop me doing quite a few things.
My Oncologist ordered a CT scan of my head to rule out any other issues. Two weeks ago, I had the scan; CT scans are not much fun but necessary. After three attempts to find a vein and 30 minutes or so digging around, a vein was found. Then down for the scan and a contrast dye was injected into the canula as I went in for the scan. It made me feel nauseous for the rest of the evening. But yes, the CT scan was clear so ‘big’ issues were ruled out, thank goodness.
My tips for CT scans are to get the line/canula inserted by the Oncology nurses who do this all day every day. Then while having the scans, to close your eyes, meditate, visualise yourself on a sandy beach or your favourite place – just don’t think about the scan or going in to that tube as it is a bit claustrophobic.
What is working for me is that I have been having acupuncture. I would like to go once a week but can only afford once per fortnight. I am sometimes in a catch 22 situation; I don’t want to be working right now due to going through cancer treatment but I need income to have acupuncture to improve my health. So I guess part time work needs to be on the agenda soon. My acupuncturist has just gone on sick leave himself so I’m about to start with a new one. I think it is making a difference. Apparently, in acupuncture terms, headaches are easy to treat. So watch this space.
Herceptin is short term pain for long term gain. Once the line is in on the back of my hand, it is literally about 40 minutes. I am also grateful that this drug is free. Five years ago, it was not free in New Zealand. It cost nearly $70,000 to pay for nine months of Herceptin (three months was provided free through public hospitals). That was a very stressful bill to pay and I was lucky to have friends, colleagues and family to help and fundraise approximately $55,000 for me.
Only four to go
As I’m nearing the end of my treatment, the Oncology nurse started to prepare me for this milestone. I was given an ‘After Cancer pack’ full of resources on life after cancer and the transition between treatment and normal life. I’ve been through the transition before. It is kind of eerie…on one hand, yippee no more injections, medications and down to annual check ups. On the other hand, there is suddenly time to process everything that has gone on in the last year or so where I have been surrounded in medical cotton wool. After I finish Herceptin, I no longer have the support of a team of medical professionals. It can feel lonely, isolated and fears of recurrence abound. This is the time when many cancer survivors need more support – counselling, post-cancer programmes – and often, depression arises.
I am starting to plan the celebrations and also, recognise that a different life will begin. A life when it’s time to make plans without fear of cancer while simultaneous not having full health – until full health comes back in its own time.
Cancer has been the main thread in my last 5.5 years. In 5.5 years, I have had breast cancer twice – had nearly two years of Herceptin, nine months of chemo, six weeks of radiation, five surgeries included a full mastectomy and breast reconstruction from my tummy (check out my chemo and breast reconstruction diaries). It is a lot for a body to process and takes time to recover! One medical professional I talked to recently said it would take five to ten years to get myself completely back to full health, not in a negative way but in a ‘let’s get real’ way.
The rest of the time has been spent working, getting my health and fitness back and getting out there in the world. I have travelled for work and pleasure to Scotland, Wales three times, Portugal, England, Ireland, Singapore, Brazil, Argentina, Viet Nam, Australia and around New Zealand, mainly visiting my friend Philippa in Christchurch and friends and sister in Auckland. Travel is my passion and helped me get my mojo back after cancer last time. I have also worked hard and done lots of social stuff and met lots of new friends including the Brazil Girls (six of us bonded on a three week holiday to Brazil and Argentina).
I am looking forward to the next phase of my life – with adventures, a new career, this website, writing, travel, all sorts of things. I can’t wait but I’m also a bit cautious about not committing to too many things while I’m not 100%. While I can’t wait for the future, I also need to focus on the now. Not count my chickens before they hatch…get to the gym, watch my weight, go to my medical appointments and live as well as I can.
But in the mean time, I wanted to do something outside the square so had some navy blue streaks put in my hair and I’m loving it.
Where are you in your cancer treatment? What did you do to celebrate finishing treatment? I would love to hear from you.