Peace of mind and the kindness of strangers

Looking back at the end of last week, I think I worked myself into a frenzy – have always loved this English expression. I kept raising more questions, not getting any answers and stayed being stuck in indecision-land.

Saturday morning’s reiki session with Danira couldn’t have been better timed. We had a long conversation and she was a pillar of strength for me. It felt good to open up, let go, cry, talk some more and finally settle down for meditation, visualisation and reiki. She asked whether I had a small talisman or something that someone might have brought back from somewhere that I could take with me and hold. I didn’t think I had. She then undid her own necklace and released a small cross, a pendant that she had brought back from a holy place in Jerusalem. She put it into my hand and told me to keep it for a while, on loan. I was overwhelmed and accepted. The reiki session was great, I was yet again deeply relaxed and walked out calm and actually smiling. She also offered to come with me to the oncologist session on Monday, just for emotional support. I said I would think about it – how kind again.

She mentioned Professor Jane Plant to me and recommended I look at her book ‘your life in your hands’. In my thirst for knowledge these days, I tend to follow these kinds of recommendations very quickly so I bought her book immediately and started reading.

I left Danira and met up with my friend Stephanie from Paris at Sloan Square for lunch. We spent hours catching up and talking, sharing deep emotional experiences, talking about family and other things. It was wonderful and a very gentle afternoon, just what I had needed. I spent saturday evening relaxed at home, mostly reading the newly purchased book. Jane Plant had breast cancer (five times) herself and as a scientist herself, started researching different approaches to breast cancer. She is a major advocate of the ‘no dairy’ diet – mainly backed by statistics of low breast and prostrate cancer occurrence in South East Asia where dairy has not been part of the daily diet. The book is easy to follow (aside from the biochemistry section on cells) and her own story is fascinating.

Over the weekend, I spoke to two women who had been to the Oasis of Hope in Mexico. The clinic that offers conventional and alternative cancer treatments. When I last spoke to the clinic, I had asked for patient references. One lady, around 70 years old lives in Scotland and first went to the clinic 12 years ago. She had advanced stage breast cancer, refused chemotherapy and chose other methods. She remains cancer free and a big advocate of the clinic. In fact she goes back every year with her son to volunteer. We spoke for a long while about the merits of chemo, about this and that and not just the clinic. She seemed like a genuine, warm hearted person. It was good to speak with someone who had similar feelings to me with regards to different treatment paths.

The second lady I spoke to lives in Toronto. Again we spent ages on the phone and talked about many things and exchanged tips on nutrition. She’s 50 and went to Oasis of Hope about a year ago having been diagnosed with stage 3. For her, it was out of question to have chemo, surgery and radiation. She said while the tumour is still there, it hasn’t grown or spread. She’s managing it… wow. Talk about fearless. She said she has regular blood tests and knows that she’s getting better from the results of these tests. It’s helpful to speak with people who are fearless, you can almost touch the determination you hear in their voice.

Following a lovely xmas house party at friends in North London on sunday, I continued reading and learning and came across an article talking about the merits of chemotherapy in pre-menopausal women: Adjuvant chemotherapy not beneficial for patients with luminal A subtype of breast cancer. The title says it all really. This research was presented in San Antonio last week, in the US, where a lot of oncologists meet once a year. My oncologist also attended the event. Was this a sign? Maybe some new hope that I wouldn’t need the treatment after all?

So today, monday, I had my follow-up appointment with the oncologist Dr. Cleator. I prepared my list of questions and decided to go for a 5km run ahead of the appointment to clear my mind and also get rid off excess nervous energy. I felt  calmer this time.

We had a very good session. She took me through the results of the Endopredict test in more detail and explained how chemo & hormone therapy lower the risk of recurrence etc. I explained why I hadn’t gone to have a portacath fitted while she was away (small operation to fit a port onto your main artery for chemo treatment – it stays there under your skin for the duration of it.) I spoke openly about how chemotherapy just doesn’t sit well with me, how the concept is alien to me and my understanding of health, etc. I noticed once again getting hot flushes on my face talking about the topic. She was very understanding. I also mentioned the CA blood test and asked about hyperthermia treatments. She said that hyperthermia treatments are often used in patients with late stage cancer and in combination with targeted chemotherapy. She knew of the blood test but also knew it wasn’t 100% accurate. I highlighted the recent study that I had found the day before and she remembered the paper being mentioned at her conference.

She seemed impressed by the research and knowledge I had acquired and I felt that we were able to talk to eachother as two people who will team up for a positive outcome. I much prefer this dynamic. I find her genuine, caring and very well informed. She said that she would support me in whatever decision I make ultimately. She does see some benefit to having chemo and outlined a slightly different path which I think I can actually warm to. The option is to receive 4 cycles every 3 weeks of either EC (epirubicin and cyclophosphamide) or AC (doxorubicin which is also called adriamycin and cyclophosphamide). Could these names sound any more toxic? So a total of 12 weeks. With this treatment there are small risks of leukemia (rare), side effects of nausea, hair loss and possible impact on fertility.

The other option is to have Taxol on a weekly basis for 12 weeks. Hair loss is less likely with this, so is impact on fertility and other side effects. It may cause neuropathy but will pass. All in all it seemed like a gentler option to me at first thought. Apparently efficacy is the same in both.

We discussed these in a little more detail as well as her view that Tamoxifen given to women for 5 years who have hormone positive breast cancers. In my case, even a 10-year treatment of this is recommended for good results. I questioned the drug as the American Cancer Society and World Health Organisation labelled it a carcinogen. We discussed this in a bit more detail too.

I asked her whether there was any rush at all to – if I decided to go ahead – start treatment this side of Christmas and she suggested that there wasn’t a rush. Starting early January would also be fine. I will sleep on this.

I feel a massive sense of relief. Both because of the nature of the conversation we had as well as the options in front of me. I’m feeling optimistic!

Mirror mirror on the wall… who’s the bravest of them all?

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