Category Archives: Breast cancer and chemotherapy

We`re all doomed I tell you, doomed!

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I`ve had the past week off as annual leave. It`s just as well really because I have some further, unexpected tests and scans to get through relating to my breast cancer or breast banana as I like to refer to it.  Just when you thought etc. etc……

My book

I was due to visit a cousin in Ireland this week but another time cuz, too much on my mind at the mo`.

The holiday at home has afforded me some much-needed time to reflect on my mortality and possible demise, which may be earlier than I anticipated even a year ago although obviously I hope not.  When I was given the news that the banana may have migrated to my other breast, at first I sank into the Slough of Despond but eventually I find, my mind habituates to even bad news, the most morose of thoughts and emotions lessen and in doing so, they become more manageable and life goes on.

I have been reflecting on my life and whether I have any regrets. I have a few, but then again…..

I regret sending Fred Ryland a valentine`s card which read “Roses are red, violets are blue, cabbages stink and so do you.“  Mostly though, being of the nature that believes everything happens for a reason, I regret nothing and I remain an optimist.  I find the main problem with having an optimistic nature is that optimists really believe they can help people become better human beings and are genuinely surprised when we realise yet again and far too late in the day, we cannot.  Hey ho, I digress.

One of the things that living with banana has given me is a really chilled out attitude to the things that don`t really matter which I have discovered is almost everything. Take this morning for example, I have eaten a piece of toast and butter spread liberally with salad cream with a fried egg on top.   Accompanying this feast, I then chomped down an extremely large piece of gorgonzola cheese, two big chilli olives and a bowl of baked beans with at least a desert spoon of Lidl tomato ketchup stirred in.   To finish it all off I took my daily supply of paracetamol, mega doses of magnesium, vitamin D3, cod liver oil, devil`s claw and curcumin supplements.  I fluctuate wildly between eating healthily and not touching alcohol, to downing a bottle of wine and smoking five fags in each hand all at once.  Do I care how much I am abusing my digestive and bodily systems? Not a jot, I`m going to die anyway. Oh come on!  It`s the only thing we can be really sure of and as my sister Sue`s wife said to me the day my sister died, “I knew she was going to die, I just didn`t think it would be today.”  (“It`s a good day to die today,” Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.)

I don’t want a funeral. I`ve been to three recently and another one on Monday of next week. They have all been sad and that is absolutely fine of course but I don`t want sad, I want a happy affair.  The only funeral I have ever attended which was an affair involving lots of laughter and celebration was that of a dear friend and colleague Debbie Lees. Hers was a humanist funeral that really spoke of her, it was great.  So after I die, I`d like some kind death person to come and remove my body please and cremate me and may my family and friends have a big party, get drunk, take illegal substances if that is their bag and have a laugh remembering the me who I am.  And I don`t want any hymns sung, I`d rather you sang “Is that all there is?” and “Cabaret” and “You`ll never walk alone” and “The sun has got his hat on,” at the top of your voices and send my ashes off in the form of a firework. Hah!

So there you are, I don`t have anything to leave anybody, if there is one thing I learned from my Buddhist studies, it`s that material things do not matter.  I was about to write something mean and unpleasant here about clinging to wealth and belongings and about hypocrisy but my mother Bess suddenly materialised across the table from where I`m sitting and drumming her fingers on the wood, tut tutted at me and said, “Now, now Helen…..” so I won`t. She died 23 years ago and she is never far away. Thanks mum, you taught me there is a time and a place for everything and most of all you passed on to me your irreverent sense of humour which showed me how to laugh at life`s adversities.  I`ve enjoyed a lot of laughter in my life, you can`t beat it.

So, more tests over the next two weeks and the results at the end of the month, meanwhile, where did I put my baccy?

th

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It`s the way I tell `em!

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I have been thinking about doing stand-up comedy, I seem to be able to make people laugh so why not.  Why should my life become more sedate just because I am in my sixties?  So – I was mulling through some of the situations I have found entertaining in my past and thought I could employ the fact that I have survived cancer, as a starting point so here goes with some of my ideas…….

I had breast cancer in 2016, I underwent a lot of treatment including chemotherapy and one of the side effects of chemo` is chronic constipation. I needed a shed load of Senakot and it reminded me of a time years ago when I was similarly affected and went to visit my local Boots where everyone knew me. I asked the pharmacist for some Senakot and she said, “Are they for you?”  For some reason, I have no idea why, I suddenly felt embarrassed and blushing mightily I replied, “No, they`re for my mother.”  She looked at me in a puzzled sort of a way and said, “Helen, your mother died fifteen years ago.”   “Ummmm, for my mother-in-law!” I hastily corrected myself. How daft.

During treatment my immunity levels dropped and I found I was troubled with all sorts of niggling ailments that I would otherwise have fought off, including a permanently stuffy nose. One of my friends suggested I purchase some menthol crystals to inhale some steam and clear it. I tripped to the chemist once again and said to the pharmacist, “Do you have any crystal meths?”   She looked down at me, which isn`t difficult as I am only five foot two and said, “Helen I think you mean menthol crystals?” and then smiling she said, “Mind you, this is Acocks Green, how much do you want?”

And talking of my mother, many years ago my mum and I walked into the Midland Bank in the Green to withdraw some money. My parents had a flat over the bank and at that time, they also had a beautiful ginger cat called (unsurprisingly) Tom.  Most days Tom was in the habit of strolling into the bank through their open office window, for some fuss and a saucer of milk.  Behind the counter worked a young teller called Richard. Richard was ultra conservative and a bit of a fuddy-duddy for such a young person.  Bending over the counter towards my mother and in hushed tones Richard whispered, “Mrs. Pitt, did you know your pussy`s got fleas?”  He was absolutely unaware of what he had just said and my mother and I were in bits, collapsing with laughter. 

I reckon if I add a couple more anecdotes, I`d have a reasonable ten minutes to deliver at my local open mic night……..

 

Taking back the power.

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I`ve been feeling rather emotional this past week, a bit weepy, a bit low and not really registering why. Then it struck me this morning as I was walking with my dog, it will be a year on Wednesday since I was diagnosed with cancer, so the light bulb came on.

In my case, after my treatment had finished and the doctor spoke to me those lovely words, “you have the all clear,” for a brief, heady few days, I felt an incredible high. It didn`t last and as I gradually came back down to earth I realised that cancer never really leaves us. I have a long way to go (five years) before I can relax a little and know I am in remission and even then, it may return. I feel sad because cancer has impacted on me so massively, I have spent so much time trying to manage my feelings, remain positive, productive, engaged with the people who I love, I don`t think I`ve given myself time to mourn the loss of who I was before this diagnosis and feel the feelings of sadness and rage for how much cancer has taken from me.

Well here`s the thing cancer; I`m taking it back.

Yesterday I was reading a post my daughter had put up on social media, I think she put it up there for me to see because it was all about those people who feel selfish when they are coping with an awfulness in their life, after all, there are so many people out there who have it so much worse. This describes exactly how I feel, it`s as though surviving cancer so far somehow means I have less right to my myriad of feelings because at least I am still here to tell the tale. The piece goes on to say, “don’t buy into it, because it’s nonsense. It doesn’t matter if someone else had it ‘worse.’ Every person who experiences a trauma deserves to get the attention and care they need to heal from it.”

So I rang Macmillan Cancer Care (love, love, love them) and they told me that they are working jointly with Relate to offer people who have had cancer some free counselling sessions. You may think of Relate as working with people who have a troubled marriage (they used to be called Marriage Guidance, do you remember?) However, Relate recognises that cancer affects all of our relationships including the one we have with our self. So I`ve booked me in for some `me` time with Relate and an opportunity to work my way through some of this shitty stuff that`s stopping me from getting on with my life in the present. I am looking forward to it and to letting go of some of this negativity, it is so unlike me.

And to my friends and family who are fighting to keep their head above the waves, not waving but feeling like they are drowning. I will get back to me and then I can give you that hand up once again as so many have offered to me over this past, really difficult year.

I would like to end on a high note so here you are, it`s a  middle C.

🙂

Treat yourself with kindness…..

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It is a funny old thing cancer.  Just when you think it is safe to get back in the water – BOOM!

In spite of being given the “all clear” last August, I find myself feeling absolutely rubbish at the moment, I feel terribly dispirited and I am struggling not to burst into tears at the drop of a hat, which is exactly what I did this morning when I rang the helpline at MacMillan Cancer Care. As has been my previous experience, the woman on the other end of the line was totally wonderful and instantly “got” what I was blabbing about. I think I have tried so hard to remain positive not just for me, but also for my family and friends, that a huge build up of anxiety and miserable-ness is sitting in my head which sometimes overwhelms me. I forget how recent my diagnosis was, how challenging the journey and how raw my emotions still feel. After the all clear I think I just expected to spring back to being the old Helen, and it doesn`t work like that!  The fear of breast cancer returning lingers in the background for large chunks of my thinking time and I am told by fellow survivors that this will not leave me but it is something I can learn to manage. 

When I was going through cancer treatment, it felt like I was doing something really positive and to some extent that gave me a sense of being in control.  When my treatment finished, I experienced an anti-climax and it is partly this that makes me feel so low.

The MacMillan volunteer said that it might help me to go and get some counselling, so that is what I`m going to do. I`ve been told of a group in Solihull, near me. They are called Breast Friends (Ha ha.) I`m going to ask for some support because I deserve it, we all deserve a helping hand when the going gets tough.

Once upon a time a year ago, I was a robust, generally happy, buoyant human being. Cancer has changed me completely and as the woman at MacMillan said to me today, I am still on my journey, I am still finding my way.  So if I seem a little down, give me a hug. If I seem a bit snappy, make me a cuppa, send me a virtual smile, it will be most welcome.

Have a happy Christmas and the best of New Years, I know I am going to.

Beating the Banana.

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I decided to put all my breast cancer blogs together in one book-ette. It will be available on Kindle in the next week or so. Isn`t the cover fantastic!  Thanks to my editor/publisher, Andrew Sparke for his encouragement and support.

 

A Tale of Two Titties.

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Apparently my boobalinkas have become the subject of speculation at my local hostelry.
A couple of weeks ago a neighbour at the top of our road, passed away and as is the custom in these parts, his missis had put some money behind the bar so that his buddies could toast his heavenly departure.
I didn`t go because I don`t really like pubs and I didn`t know my neighbour, however lots of others did, including two ladies who also know me. (I use the term ladies, loosely, apparently they were absolutely lagging which is an English euphemism for pissed as farts.)  For the sake of modesty let them remain anonymous.
A third neighbour was also present at the merry goodbye and took great delight in repeating the following conversation to me…….
Neighbour 1:  I see Hel has some new boobs.
Neighbour 2:  Yes but they`re not her own, I reckon she`s got summat shoved down her bra.
Neighbour 1: They look too good to be real, I agree.
Neighbour 3:  I can assure you they are real!
Neighbours 1 & 2 jointly:   Nooooooo!
Neighbour 3:  They most definitely are all her own, the doc` gave her an uplift and I know because I`ve seen them!  She has the titties of a thirty year old and her skin is beautiful.
Like me, this lovely lady has recently recovered from breast cancer and so we have swapped many a treatment tale.  She had a lumpectomy and recently she asked if she could see my new boobs. I obliged as to be honest, so many people have seen them over the past year I no longer care who gets a gander…..
She said that neighbours` 1 and 2`s faces were an absolute picture.
Wish I`d been there with my camera.

Yes – we have no banana!

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I had some wonderful news yesterday. I went to see my surgeon Mr. Basu for a check up.  I am totally in love with him anyway and even more so now because he told me that following my breast cancer surgery, all my biopsies are clear. There`s nothing in my breast tissue, no live cancer cells in the bits of banana still remaining after chemo, and nothing in my lymph nodes.
To say I am grateful is putting it very mildly. I am grateful beyond words.
So this is my last blog on my breast banana, as I have referred to it.  I have to have a small amount of radiotherapy Mr. B says, to err on the side of caution but that is NOTHING compared to chemotherapy.  I will be fine.
Thanks to the many, many people who have supported me on my journey, who have made me laugh, held me when I cried (Tony) bought me flowers and treats far too many to mention here. People who have prayed with me and for me in their prayer circles, the friends of mine who are atheist or pagan, or agnostic or of completely different faiths, thank you for your good wishes, positive vibes and many, many messages of support.
It carried me through and I will never forget it or any of you.
With all my love.
Perky Pitt.  🙂

Keep breathing as long as you can!

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If you have been following my posts then I hope you will be pleased to hear that last Thursday I went to have surgery for the removal of any remaining breast banana and a reduction in both breasts for the purpose of symmetry. I was very excited. The first procedure I went through was actually the day before, when I had an injection of isotope which preceded my scan. It didn`t hurt at all, it didn`t even sting, the nurse just made me radioactive. The next day I arrived at the hospital with my lovely daughter by my side, bright and breezy, ready for the operation.

The next part of the proceedings is called a wire insertion. A very thin piece of wire, a bit like fuse wire, was placed inside my breast under a local anaesthetic with the purpose of assisting the surgeon. It guides he or she in what shape they need to be making with their scalpel when they are taking bits of you away. Ultimately it leads them to the tiny, titanium implant which is at the heart of the banana and which I had inserted way back in February. It`s all about getting the incision right. The procedure was again carried out under a local anaesthetic and although it was mildly uncomfortable, it wasn`t anything to write home about. I was then taken to the operating theatre where one of my close friends works with the anaesthetist team. This made it a very jolly experience with lots of crass jokes, micky taking and general hilarity while they fiddled about with tubes and cannulas.

The last thing I remember before dropping off was one of the doctors telling me to think of my holidays and asking me where I was going and I said, “The Maldives,” which I am not and then I was out like a light.

When I woke up in the recovery room, I was being observed by a very lovely nurse from the Filippines. She asked me if I believed in God and clearly wanted to talk about her faith which I guess you know, is generally forbidden in a hospital context but as I am a firm believer, we talked for a while and then I said to her to stop now, because if a colleague hears, you will be in trouble. I`ve had this experience of nurses wanting to talk about God a couple of times while I have been having chemo, they were both nurses from abroad so perhaps it is more acceptable in other parts of the world. One of them was so nervous she even crossed herself and prayed before administering the dreaded stuff to me which was a little disconcerting at the time.  When the Filipino nurse left me she said, “I love you,” and I replied, “I love you too!”

I wasn`t to know that while I was under the anaesthetic there had been an event and as a result, I had been in theatre for 5 hours, it should have been about 2. I have absolutely no recollection of anything at all untoward happening but apparently I had an anaphylactic reaction to some blue dye that is used in breast surgery. Very quickly after injecting me with the dye, the team noticed I was having difficulty breathing and my blood pressure plummeted. AIthough I didn`t go into cardiac arrest, my breathing was stopping and had they not swiftly pumped some adrenalin into me I certainly would have. My poor daughter went straight into panic mode as doctors rushed hither and thither past where she was waiting, trying to stabilise my blood pressure.

Afterwards I was taken to a ward to sleep off all the excitement. I remember my daughter leaving me some sandwiches and a drink and a friend telling me not to try the sandwiches too soon, she was right!  My lips were claggy and I couldn`t chew or swallow properly as my mouth was so dehydrated. I fell asleep. At 3am I woke up and ate the sandwiches, they were delicious and then I decided to go and take a look at my greatly reduced in size, new boobs. I was wowed, I still am. I haven`t looked this good since I was a young woman. The internal stitches melt after 10 days. The external skin is superglued so there will be minimum scarring, not that I care….. if the banana has vacated the premises then I haven`t got a care in the world.

At about 8am the surgeon came to see how I was doing. He said he had left no margin in the affected breast and had removed about 180 grams of tissue, hoping that he will have removed any remaining banana. About 120 was removed from the other side and they are now of more or less equal size, I am so pleased. My daughter who is an ace chef immediately said, “mother that`s about 6 and a bit tablespoons from one side and four and a bit from the other,” so I feel like someone has had their pound of flesh.

Now my nipples no longer gaze at the floor and my boobs are about half the size they were, I have become affectionately known as Perky. The operation has made it very obvious that I have a belly which needs some serious downsizing, meanwhile, I am going to keep on strolling. I am in minimum discomfort, there is some bruising but the swelling is already going down and psychologically I feel wonderful, so if you woke up breathing this morning then congratulations, you have another chance!

Keeping abreast.

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Just a quick update for anyone interested…..
My chemo has now finished and I am absolutely over the moon about that. My hair should start to grow back in about a month and I am also very excited about that as lots of people have told me it`s likely to grow back an entirely different colour and curly.  Hah!
I went to see the surgeon to talk about the next bit, which is surgery followed by some radiotherapy.  Mr. Basu is a beautiful man, both inside and out as I observed from the wonderful interactions between him and the staff of the breast care unit at Birmingham Women`s Hospital.
He checked me over. He said, “There are 2 options available for you. The first one is to have a lumpectomy to the breast that has been affected by the banana. This will result in some puckering and scarring and your breast will be a different shape to the other one, however, it is the simplest option for you.  The other option is for me to do a breast reduction in both breasts, which will offer you uplift and symmetry as well as taking away any remaining banana.  Which would you prefer do you think?”
At first I said the first option would be fine. Then the sister took me aside and we had a chat. It was clear she thought I was bonkers.  I said that I felt guilty about the cost to the NHS involved in the second option and she said, “how long have you been working?” I said since I was 16. She said, “Well I think you can dispense with any guilt then don`t you?”
I went back to see the doc` and said I would take the second option so I am going for surgery on July 7th and as you can imagine, I feel very fortunate to come out of a very difficult experience on a much more positive note.  He drew a picture for me of what he was going to do.
Later on I said to my old boss Mike Scorer,  “of course the op` will mean I have the boobs of a forty year old, attached to the body of a sixty two year old,”  and he said, “Could`ve been worse Hel, could`ve been the other way round!”
#greattobealive

It`s all in the way they tell `em!

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I had my sixth and FINAL chemo yesterday and I am still quite high on happiness that this part of my treatment is now over and also the steroids make me feel quite happy. The feeling reminds me of when I was a young gal and used to smoke a bit of pot with my mates and then get the munchies. Steroids definitely give me an appetite although I know they don`t suit everyone. Another really nice side effect of my treatment is that one of the drugs, steroids probably, stop my hip arthritis from hurting so for the last two weeks of each cycle I have been arthritis, sciatica and bone ache free which is wonderful.

Anyway, I thought I would write about the side effects I have experienced because I have had messages from a growing number of people who, like me, are living with a cancer diagnosis and quite a few people have fed back to me that my blogs are helpful so here goes………

The first three treatments I had were a drug called Taxotere or if you are in the UK it`s often referred to as Docetaxel (dosi-taxle.) This made my bones hurt a lot but I quickly remedied that with large mounts of Ibuprofen. Having checked with my doc` if this was ok, to take 800 mgs in one dose in the morning and then the pain would go away all day, with a little smile playing about his lips he said it was fine and wouldn`t kill me so that is what I did. I took a co-codemol at night, 500mgs for around 5 days. You really don`t have to put up with pain and I urge you to seek the advice of your doctor like I did. Other than that, the Neulasta injection which is self injected to increase your white blood cells, also increased my bone and back ache but all of these side effects go after 7 – 10 days so even when you are at your lowest ebb and weeping in the park (it`s where I go to have a good cry) you can comfort yourself with this common fact for the majority of people.

I tried not having the Neulasta injection last month. I told myself I would boost my immunity naturally with a good cancer diet. I ate a ton of Kale, beetroot, garlic, ginger, cumin, etc etc. and immediately developed netropenia where your white blood cell count drops dramatically, in my case to nearly none at all. I got a rotten infection in my gum, my temperature soared to that of the sun and I went to hospital for four days. Sigh. Now I just have the injection.

About 17 days after my first cycle, I lost all my hair even the hair on my poonani.  Gross.  I wear turbans, (not on my poonani) I like them and they are cool in warm weather. I don`t want a wig but everyone is different.

Both treatments give me chronic constipation which is shit. Take lots of Movicon, I mean LOTS and it does help, or buy a spade.

My finger and toe nails have thickened and become ridged and yellow. I look like I smoke forty fags a day using my feet. New nails will eventually grow back. Some of my toes have permanent pins and needles but it`s not too unbearable and should go eventually.

I had a sore scalp for the first few weeks but this wore off. I use Johnsons baby shampoo as I find it soothing. I get really dry, sore eyes each month for about a week. My doc` gave me some pretend tears and they are very soothing.

Taxotere made everything taste like metal for about a week. FEC makes everything taste sickly sweet. Drink PLENTY of water and I lace mine heavily with a cordial of some kind, or the occasional gin! Brush your teeth plenty too as this will also help take the taste away and suck mints or hard fruit sweets or toffees until you get your taste buds back. I like soup and I love granola, two of the few things that remain tasting lovely no matter what.

FEC makes me feel sick but this is very easily remedied for the majority of people with Emend, and Domperidone. Insist on having the two drugs, they are a life saver for many people including me.

FEC makes your wee go pillar box red for about 3 days. It`s a bit disconcerting if no-one has explained.

The most unpleasant side effect with FEC is that it makes my muscles very weak. I love to walk with my dog but I have to ensure I am walking somewhere where I can sit down or I feel like my legs will give way. I also get a bit breathless and that`s because the drugs affect my red blood cells as well, and they`re the ones that take oxygen around my body but I know it will all pass. This too will pass as God and Buddha remind me every day.

About 5 days after my treatment I usually have a day where I feel terribly emotional and have a good cry. It helps, I kick myself up the arse and remind myself that there are many people who are so much worse off than me and crack on with living in the moment instead of worrying about the future.

I have a bit of chemo brain but I play on that! Chemo brain makes your worms come out wring and you can forget stuff and feel fuzzy in the head. A bit like a mild hangover.

I`m going to have my surgery, a lumpectomy in my left breast, some time in July and then some radiotherapy so I`ll get back to you a bit later. Please email me in the comment box below with any questions, I will reply to everyone.

I am so glad I have managed to do all six, I nearly gave up on number four, chemotherapy makes you feel rubbish there is no doubt. But it`s manageable if you find out what works for you and I have been left with a sense of achievement, a bit like when I walked up mount Snowdon with the Australian but that`s another story. As the doc` said when he gave me my diagnosis, “you have a long road ahead of you.”  Finishing the chemo helps me to feel like I have given myself the best possible chance of remaining here on this wonderful planet, a while longer.

I went for a scan last week and the nurse said the tumours have shrunk but not a lot. I slipped into the slough of despond for a bit and had a very bad day, hence the title of today`s blog. When I spoke to a registrar this week he said that until the tumours are removed and biopsied they do not know how many live cancer cells I have remaining so I do hope the feccin` FEC has done the trick. I have to have radioactive dye injected quite soon so not only will I have super powers but this will tell me if the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes. The dye will also make my breast go blue apparently so I am considering auditioning for the follow up to Avatar, or changing my name to Helen Blue-tit. Whaddya think?

🙂