Last Tuesday Tom drove me down to London for pre-surgery scans. First I had to go for an MRI with contrast. This is the same scan as I had immediately after I had been given my diagnosis. I remember the first time I went for that scan, I couldn’t stop crying which was a real nightmare when you have to lie face down and keep as still as possible. For them to be able to inject the contrast, a cannula had to be inserted, which was done on both occasions by a lovely man called Neil. I told him that I had met him before and thanked him for being so kind when I was upset the first time. He apologised for not remembering me. I said it was completely understandable considering the amount of patients he must meet, that half my face was covered with a mask and the small detail that I have now lost all of my hair including eyebrows and eyelashes which is not a good look, I can assure you.
The MRI took about half an hour. I had to lie face down meaning I couldn’t see what was happening and I was given earplugs and headphones to wear as the machine was very loud. There was a lot of moving of the machine for the scan, or rather, I was moved through the scanner several times. There was also air blowing over me at different points, giving the feeling that I was moving faster than I probably was, but as I couldn’t see what was happening, I had a real feeling of motion sickness when it finished.
After the MRI, I went over to the breast unit for a mammogram = more painful squeezing and squashing. It really is like some kind of ancient torture device. The machine even tells you how many Newtons of pressure it is forcing upon each innocent breast and at it’s most painful I saw it read 100N! I would like to put good money on this machine having been designed by a man.
After the mammogram I had to go for an ultrasound. Tom had reminded me to make sure I get the second marker clip put in for surgery, something that Laura had repeated to me multiple times in the previous appointment. Whilst I was being scanned I asked the radiologist whether she was going to put the clip in to which the reply was “Oh yes it’s very easy for me to put the clip in if the surgeon requests it.” As it happened there was no request on the system for me to have a clip placed, and Laura was not in work to ask for confirmation. After a good half an hour of lying topless on the bed and waiting for the radiologist to hunt down different surgeons, she confirmed that she would be able to put in a marker clip…now she just needed to find out which one to place. Apparently there were many different types and different surgeons had preferences for different ones. Another excursion for the radiologist and some more waiting for me. Finally it was confirmed which one she should use and after a local anaesthetic, the clip was placed.
Before leaving I asked the radiologist for an update on the size of the tumour. She measured it on her computer as 17mm – much larger than the ultrasound in September which came to 11mm. This scan’s measurement was closer to the initial measurement of 21mm back in May.
After the ultrasound, I was then told that I had to go for another mammogram to confirm the clip had been put in the correct place. The first mammogram could have been avoided if they had known I was going to have a clip placed, unfortunately this surprise second one after the clip was compulsory. And then for the final blow of the day, the lady carrying out the second mammogram missed the clip from the first image and had to re-take. My boobs felt sufficiently squished for one day!
I was worried about the ultrasound showing that the tumour had grown, so called the Macmillan nurse, Hannah, to let her know and she said that Melissa would be in touch the following day. I had been told before chemotherapy began that if anything pointed towards the treatment not working, that surgery would be brought forwards. I started to get my hopes up that I might not have to do my final round of chemotherapy. More than anything, I was keen to bring surgery forwards to remove the tumour which now seemed to be growing again.
So far, all of my conversations with the oncology team have been with Tom present, as my official note-taker, and then afterwards repeat back to me what they have said. I really do have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to my consultations, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to retain correctly what they said to me. Tom happened to be out the next day when Hannah called back – what followed was a very confusing conversation that I was then unable to recall as soon as I hung up. Hannah said that I had been discussed at their multidisciplinary team meeting (MDT) that morning. Their MDT would have been attended by oncologists, surgeons, radiologists along with all the other members of the team, it’s a good approach for making clinical decisions due to everyone from different specialties being able to contribute. The outcome from the meeting was that I should continue with my final round of chemotherapy. I couldn’t understand why, as the tumour seemed to be growing and surely that meant that the new drugs were not working as well as the previous ones? Hannah tried to explain that the MRI showed an overall decrease in tumour volume, when comparing the images from May and this week, and therefore I was responding to treatment. Hannah was reading out a radiology report which included lots of confusing phrases like “the tumour is showing a type 1 curve” and “complete resolution of the tumour” – sounds like I am cured?!
After speaking to Melissa, she explained to me that the decision from the MDT was based upon my last MRI scan report, which showed that the tumour had reduced in volume by over 50%, when compared to the first scan back in May. Apparently MRI is the gold-standard for measuring tumors as it can measure volume, whereas the ultrasound scan is much more subjective to operator and only measures in two dimensions. Panic over – tumour apparently not growing. Sadly must complete my final round of chemotherapy, that’ll teach me for getting my hopes up! Warning, explicit content below…
Yesterday I went into Barts for my final round of chemotherapy!! I really thought this day would never arrive, it has been a tough six months to say the least but, after I am over the side effects of the final round, I hope to put all of that behind me. I took in two tins of Emma Jefferson’s famous flapjacks for all of the staff on the ward who have looked after me. I said to my nurse that I had brought presents to say thank you, as it was my final round today, to which she replied “yes but you will be coming back in January to continue with your targeted treatments” – way to rain on my parade Janet, can’t you let me celebrate this little win?! Anyway the day went very smoothly and successfully, Janet was lovely apart from her final parting shot of “see you in January” when I was leaving.
When I left the hospital, I had the best group of friends waiting for me with a bottle of champagne and McDonald’s chips – they really know how I like to celebrate!
I would like to thank each and every one of you who has supported me over the past six months, I feel very lucky to have such an amazing group of friends. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me, kept checking in on me, sent a kind message or funny video, sent presents or flowers (not to sound ungrateful but I think I have had enough flowers to last me a lifetime now!) and all the rest of you who I know have been supporting Tom and my parents. I can’t begin to explain how much it all makes me feel better and has really kept me going! I am looking forward to seeing you all in person and give you hugs and have big celebrations once it is safe and once I am given the all clear. The first (and possibly hardest) part of my journey is over and so now I can look forward to moving on to the next stages of treatment.
Tom and I have had a fantastic time staying with his family in Great Easton. Frank has enjoyed himself no end harassing their dog, Paco, or entertaining himself with his new favorite pastime of chasing shadows. We have been on some beautiful Leicestershire walks and have been fed unbelievably well over the past three weeks (sadly still no chance of me losing any weight).
We are now heading back to the flat in London, the next few weeks will be spent recovering from chemotherapy, celebrating Tom’s and my birthdays, preparing for surgery and looking forward to Christmas! Any London friends who are keen to meet up outside for a doggy walk, please get in touch!!