With October being ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ and having just seen my surgeon I thought I would share where my body is at, three years after my Breast Cancer diagnosis.
Honestly most days I don’t even think about it – it seems like a lifetime ago, but other days when I look in the mirror too long, or am having a ‘hot flush’ it feels like yesterday.
Writing this blog I thought ok, I could list out what has gone back to pre-Breast Cancer and what has changed but have realised that nothing about my body is exactly the same – and I suppose that is just part of ‘life’.
End of August 2014 at a regular GP visit I asked her to check an indentation on my left breast – it just looked like my bra was too tight and had left an indent. She didn’t think it was anything to worry about but sent me off for a mammogram and ultrasound anyway.
However within two weeks I had surgery to remove my stage 2, 3cm approx. sized cancerous lump, plus 7/8 lymph nodes. My surgeon, Chris Pyke, was happy with the ‘margins’ and I had no lymph node involvement which was positive, however due to my age at the time (47) ‘my team’ – cause that’s what you get with diagnosis – recommended four lots of chemo (during November and December 2014) and then a month of radiation (January 2015), my ‘teams’ analogy was – think of the treatment plan like insurance – better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.
Three years on –
Hair – well this has been the biggest ‘journey’ through the last three years. As you can see in my photos, I started with long wavy hair, had it cut short in prep for chemo, lost it all, then it came back grey, and curly – OMG so curly. From around May 2015 until say six months ago I have been fighting the ‘curliness’. I am keeping the style short and blonde, and I feel happy with it now. But I can’t have my neckline shaved, or the blonding agent used along my neckline, as that is now sensitive and becomes very irritated. I often look wistfully at my long hair and miss it, but this short version is so much easier to look after.
Scaring from surgery – so I have two scars. One under my left arm, close to the armpit, which doesn’t worry me, except my armpit still is numb in place – makes shaving your armpits tricky. The other major scar is around 6-8 o-clock which now also has the indentation due to the lump removal. My surgeon has mentioned that if the indent worries me that there are options to fill it in – at this stage I don’t think I want more surgery to fix it – I think if it was say at the top of the breast then I would think different.
Menopause – I can still recall asking my Oncologist at the first chemo round when I should stop taking the pill, and his response was ‘now’. The chemo pushed me into menopause – so I basically stopped my cycle there and then, no more pill, but am still having hot flushes several times day and night – really not pleasant.
Follow ups – My Oncologist is the ongoing primary doctor I see. Since chemo I started at three monthly visits for around two years, however I am now at six monthly for around another two to two and a half years. Before each visit I must have a blood test, which shows up any cancer cells, proteins or substances made by cancer plus how well my organs are functioning. I have an annual mammogram and ultrasound before visiting my surgeon.
Medications – my breast cancer grew on estrogen, hence why I had to stop the pill (being external estrogen). However, my body has an enzyme that converts male hormones into estrogen, so I take a tablet each night that basically blocks (inhibits) that enzyme. I am on a second type of this inhibitor, as first one gave me such joint pain, particularly my knees that I would groan every time I stood up. Current research recommends that this mediation is taken for five years, so I’ll see when I get to five years if they change that recommendation. Also now due to no estrogen in my system, I have to take osteo type tablets and try to do weight bearing exercise to help my bones.
Radiation leftovers – The four small tattoos around my left breast can still be seen. Plus if I am hugged too hard on the left side, I still have severe pain. Apparently the radiation treatment affects your breast tissue and this can last for years, along with sensitive skin. As you can see in the photo I still have a ‘suntan’ type line which was caused by the radiation.
Girly bits – this is what my Oncologist used to call them. With the no estrogen and menopause, I’ll admit that there were changes. However, it is good that my Oncologist discussed this with me, provided advice and I have seen other specialists, with excellent results. Message me if you want to know more about this – didn’t really want to discuss too much here.
Other – I do still have significant knee pain, particularly when walking up stairs. I also get puffed quickly, and the weight gain is very hard to move. My finger nails are now back to normal, however a couple took almost 2.5 years to grow out the opaque lifted nails.
My breast cancer experience really is nothing compared to stories I hear – I had treatment, and all good. I sincerely respect everyone’s own journeys – this is simply mine.
I also wrote a blog in December 2015 about things the doctors don’t tell you enough about – click here to have a read.