Light at the end of the tunnel

I’ve just come back from a meeting with my Oncologist and I feel positive. I was dreading going back to that place – both because of the memories of nausea from my last treatment and because I knew it was crunch time with regards to making a decision about radiotherapy. When we first had discussions about the treatment journey many weeks ago, Dr. Cleator wasn’t convinced of the benefits of radiotherapy in my case. However, more recently apparently new studies that had gone through older data had shown that radiotherapy also brought some benefits to women who had a mastectomy. Apparently radiotherapy is also given for women who have a lumpectomy.

I don’t know why l was dreading the conversation so much as I am and have been very clear in my mind that I wasn’t going to undergo radiotherapy. I had made up my mind based on our initial conversations, my discussions with the breast surgeon as well as my own knowledge around the effects on the area, the skin, the implant, etc. I also know that Dr. Cleator is actually one of the less aggressive oncologists in London and I find it easy to have a rational, informed conversation with her. Still I was weary heading to the appointment.

As usual I had my own little agenda with some notes and questions for her. She greeted me asking whether I’d now had my third or fourth treatment. I told her that she had walked right into one of the points I wanted to discuss, which is what difference a fourth one really makes and whether we could just stop at three. She laughed – I guess she could see this coming. Apparently studies have always shown a minimum of 12 weeks in terms of efficacy. Okay, with that out of the way, I wanted to talk about the unusual nausea I had after my last session, compared to the first two. Rather than it being cumulative (which is what I kept hearing from others), she thinks it may have been because of a bug – maybe due to having had the cold or not feeling 100% prior to treatment. I asked whether we could maybe reduce the dose. No such luck. Instead, she said she’d make sure I get an anti-sickness drug added which actually works against delayed nausea. Good, let’s hope it works.

We then moved onto the subject of radiotherapy. She once again highlighted the newer studies but also said that radiotherapy on reconstructive surgery with implants (vs. own body fat/tissue) often causes complications. I relayed my breast surgeon’s feedback on the low likelihood of recurrence to the area and we both quickly reached a consensus that I won’t be undergoing radiotherapy treatment. Phew! I’m so glad. She quickly added that she hoped I wasn’t going to turn my back on the hormone treatment. I had no intention on doing that. I would like to research what other ways there are to manage estrogen levels (other than drug based) but in my mind, I was always prepared (more prepared) to take the hormone pills than to do anything else.

I asked her how long it takes for the chemo drugs to leave the system. She said that the drugs themselves actually leave the body very quickly (2-3 weeks) but that overall physical recovery might take a lot longer in terms of feeling 100% again, energy levels etc. She talked about 18 months in some cases. I think again this is probably some average and there are no rules. I mentioned that I would like to take a break from everything to ‘clean my body’ a little. She suggested a month.. in my mind, it’s probably a little longer than that, we’ll see. We then briefly discussed the state of my veins and she confirmed that any tightness or soreness is temporary and I should continue to massage my arm. Finally, we talked about hair and I shared my experience around the cold cap. It has obviously worked for me. I asked whether she thinks whole chunks of hair might suddenly start falling out from now on? Doubtful… probably few strands a day, continuing to thin as per the last few weeks. I would be happy with that and I would be overjoyed to finish treatments having kept a lot of my hair.

Last but not least we talked about follow-ups. I wanted to know whether I’d have to go for various scans every few months etc. She mirrored what my breast surgeon had said, which is annual mammogram on the other breast and only a check up on the other side if I notice something unusual. Good! I’m actually looking forward to not having any medical appointments in the near future and just taking a break from that. I find it curious to read on some forums that some people feel stranded after treatments finish, almost like suddenly there’s this gap or hole. I think I feel the opposite – I can’t wait to get my body back on track, resume my energy and have some fun. I left her feeling good, feeling positive and by the time I got to Baker Street, I was greeted by a beautiful sunset, almost like a big light at the end of the tunnel.





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