Rosie, Still Standing

A further update from friend Rosie who records the final part of her treatment for breast cancer with her usual keen observational eye, wit and self deprecating humour.

"Shattered and Battered...but still standing

I wanted to start this, the final update, with some amusingly clever quotation ("Friends, Romans, countrymen... lend me your breasts...") or embed a mechanism into the text that includes the soundtrack "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John playing relentlessly in the background to celebrate the completion of what has to be the world's most challenging medical triathlon. Unfortunately I couldn't come up with the necessary witty rejoinder and neither can I code.... but finally... (drum roll) after 10 months, I am DONE.  'Death by Microwave' finished just over 2 weeks ago.

Big cancer machine thingy

Radiotherapy - whilst being the easiest leg to endure - is probably the most relentlessly boring as it required my presence every day, Monday to Friday, for 4-and-a-half weeks.  It is also the most 'scientifically scary' in terms of equipment and noise, so basically like being on the set of "Alien" (in radiology no-one can hear you scream...) The Linear Accelerator is the most impressive piece of kit I have ever seen : it is huge - consisting of a massive, rotating laser gantry, sizeable retractable panels and a very uncomfortable narrow base unit to lie on complete with complicated arm rest to lock your arms over your head. To compliment the whole 'Sci-Fi' theme, the entire suite is bathed in an ethereal blue glow. 

Positioning is key and before I even got close to being zapped, I spent a happy morning being digitally scanned, drawn all over with felt tip again... and the most painful of all.... being tattooed. Yes - I have "tats" (as opposed to "tits") - a tiny blue freckle under each arm pit and bang slap in the middle of my sternum. All this to ensure I was lying in exactly the same position each time (accurate to within a millimetre apparently).  By comparison, the actual treatment takes but a moment... 45 seconds max.... Once 'aligned', a loud siren sounds and everybody sprints out of the room because, guess what, these rays cause cancer.....  Usually, at this point, feeling very small and vulnerable and staring down the barrel of what is essentially a huge cartoon laser gun firing photons and electrons, my imagination runs completely riot and I envisage ALF bursting forth from my boob à la Alien and sprinting out of the room after them......

Compared to chemo, side effects are minimal : fatigue and what can only be described as sun burn.  Perhaps this is why 'pink' features so prominently as a marketing theme for breast cancer? Pink ribbons, pink cuddly toys, pink T-shirts, pink literature, you name it.  Please don't get me wrong, I am eternally and supremely grateful for each and every organisation working tirelessly to eradicate this vile disease, but quite how breast cancer has come to have such cutesy, almost sexual connotations is completely beyond me?  It is actually a long, brutal, down-and-dirty mud wrestle of nightmarish proportions.  You don't see prostate cancer messing about with a tiny pair of pale blue fluffy pom-poms.... their advertising features a bloody great sledgehammer... Just sayin'.....

So what now? After exhaustive meetings with Supreme Being (aka surgeon) and Oncologist and acknowledging that there are scant options available medically for post Triple Negative Breast Cancer, I have agreed to go on a course of Bisphosphonates - 1 dose every 6 months for the next 3 years administered via IV. Recent extensive trials have been seriously encouraging in helping prevent relapse - specifically in 'dem bones - and has the added benefit of protection against osteoporosis.  I have also considered oral chemotherapy, but I have to confess, the idea of moving the goal posts quite so comprehensively is not appealing. Although not as ghastly as IV chemo, it would mean another 8 cycles / 6 months of feeling shit just when I am feeling bloody brilliant for the first time in living memory. The treatment is very new for this specific application, the trials thus far very small and no guarantees despite the numbers looking encouraging.  Mark and I have been in an agony of indecision, but I think on balance, probably leave it. My lovely Oncologist is of a similar opinion and even went as far as saying he is "cautiously optimistic" about my future. Fingers crossed he's right.....

And so my friends, all that remains for me to say is a massive 'thank you'. I really couldn't have done this without all your support, love and encouragement.  Writing ALF has been most cathartic..... by allowing me to recount the horror and terror and take the piss out of it, somehow makes it so much smaller and manageable .... and there is a lot to manage.  I have been blown away by your emails, letters, flowers, telephone calls, texts and visits.... as I think I mentioned in the very first ALF, when things get really bad, to be able wrap myself in this 'duvet' of support by reading all your responses is brilliant - thank you so much. 

I leave you with the good - my hair is growing at a rate of knots....
The bad - it is so curly it resembles a sheep's fleece....
But I am relieved to inform you I am looking less ugly...! 

With much love xxx"