Being a ninja and benchpressing cadillacs

I really don’t buy into the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger cadillacso I loved this cartoon about benchpressing cadillacs when I came across it.

Challenges such as having cancer are life changing for sure, but it’s clearly nonsense to say that every hard knock you take in life makes you stronger. I’ll come out of this different, certainly. Chastened, definitely, and more appreciative of what I’ve got and grateful to be alive. But stronger? I’m really not sure. Anyway, as my two teenage sons would say, what does that even mean?

As for this second cartoon, about God and ninjas, I just love it. ninjaThat really is the way I would feel at the moment if I were at all religious.

All the way through my treatment, I was determined to stay positive and work my way through it, taking things as they came. I was determined not to feel too sorry for myself… and I didn’t want anyone else to feel sorry for me either. Then my dad died (In Glasgow again, but for the saddest of reasons) and I thought, ok, there really is only so much a person can be expected to handle at once. So when a friend posted a version of the ninja cartoon on Facebook* the other day, I thought that’s got my name written all over it.

Even now though, I can’t bring myself to be too despondent. It’s tough, but my treatment has gone well, I have an amazing support network of family and friends, I’ve learned a lot, made new friends and met some amazing people, etc, etc. As I’ve said before, things could be worse (It’s not all bad).

That said, it would have been nice if Scotland had beaten England at rugby in the Six Nations Tournament yesterday! And this weekend I’d have loved to have been sorting out my own ski gear as well as helping Andy and the boys sort out theirs for when they head off to France this coming Sunday for the half-term week… while I stay here and plough through a week of radiotherapy.

To be fair, it was I who persuaded them to go skiing. Andy took a bit of convincing but for the boys it was a no-brainer. Hang about in London with mum at home most of the day cramping their style or go skiing with dad and friends? I know what I’d have chosen. “Do you think it’s right to go skiing without mum?” Andy asked them a while ago. The reply: “Well no offence to mum, but she goes skiing without us.” Fair enough, I guess (I love Glasgow, but it’s not Geneva). I think I can hear the sound of chickens coming home to roost.

I genuinely hope they have loads of fun. I’ll enjoy it all the more if I go next year for not having gone this year.

*The cartoon that the friend posted on Facebook was funnier than the one I’ve used here. The FB one used the real f word – but my mum reads these posts so I looked for a version that wouldn’t offend her! 






Fear of lymphoedema

OK, so I’m worried I’ll develop lymphoedema at some point after my operation.

Now I’m willing to bet that most of you have never even heard of this “devastating disorder” and “dreaded complication” of breast cancer treatment. I’m not sure I had before my diagnosis, but I certainly have now. I’ve been told I have up to a 25% chance of developing the condition.

Any woman whose lymph nodes are affected by breast cancer treatment (ie through surgery or radiation) can get lymphoedema. It affects the arm on the side you had surgery. For me that’d be the right arm and I’m right-handed.

Patients with the condition can have “chronic, progressive swelling, pain, recurrent infections, and significantly decreased quality of life”. In most cases, lymphoedema develops slowly over time, and the swelling can range from mild to severe. It can develop at any time – even decades – after you’ve had breast cancer treatment; you can’t predict who’ll get it; it’s not clear if it can be prevented; and, once you’ve got it, it can be managed but it can’t be cured. It’s been said that it’s “one of the most poorly understood, relatively underestimated, and least researched complications of cancer or its treatment”.

There are lots of precautions you’re advised to take that might lower your risk of developing lymphoedema or delay its onset, or reduce its impact once you’ve got it. Note that it’s might, not will. No wonder women worry about it. In medical speak: “The lack of clarity for effective preventative measures likely contributes significantly to patient fear and anxiety.” As lymphoedema can develop years after treatment, it’s suggested you take the precautions FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. It’s known that certain things definitely increase your risk, including putting too much strain on your arm too early, infection in a cut or graze and insect bites. So you’re advised to:

  • not use your arm for anything heavy until you are told you can.
  • wear gloves for gardening and washing up.
  • use an electric razor rather than a manual one if you shave under your arms.
  • take particular care with any cuts or scratches you get on your arm, however small. If you see any redness or swelling around the cuts or scratches, you’ve to see your GP straight away as you may need antibiotics.

There’s more. For example, use nail clippers rather than scissors and don’t push your cuticles back (does that mean no more salon manicures?); avoid anything that increases the temperature of your skin, such as hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms (not that I ever went to that many, but I guess that means goodbye spas); and use insect repellent (what, even in south London?). You’re also advised never again to have injections in the arm on the side you had surgery. Same goes for having your blood pressure taken and for having blood taken. There’s lots more, but I’m sure you get the picture.

And that’s all just to stop you getting it. You don’t want to hear about what you have to do to manage it if you do in fact get it.

And what about exercise? Well wouldn’t you know, more uncertainty.  There are risks to both exercising and not exercising. I’ll definitely be exercising, but where does that leave my beloved tennis and skiing? At this stage, I just don’t know.

Let’s take tennis. You can begin to go back to the activities you did before your surgery about four to six weeks after surgery or radiation, ie once you are fully healed. That for me, assuming all goes well, would be some time in April. However, you’ve to take care not to over-tire your shoulder and arm and you’ve to avoid “vigorous, repeated activities”. Isn’t that pretty much what tennis is? As for skiing, well lymphoedema can develop even decades after surgery “after seemingly trivial trauma”. Now I’m a pretty good skier, but I still fall (someone once told me if you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough!). There’s no way of guaranteeing I won’t fall on my right-hand side. So does that mean I stop going skiing? Or that I go but stick to beginners’ slopes? As I said, at this stage I just don’t know.

Medical advances will result in fewer women getting lymphoedema in the future. But this is now, so I guess I’ll just have to be careful and hope for the best. I’m sure a lot of the precautions eventually become second nature and that, as long as you can keep the condition at bay, taking them won’t seem the big deal it seems now. I really would like to still be able to play tennis and ski, though. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

I accept I’m perhaps worrying too much over this, and that perhaps I’ve transferred a lot of my anxiety over this whole breast cancer thing into a fear of developing lymphoedema. That said, up to 30% of women who have the surgical procedure I’m having – axillary lymph node dissection or axillary clearance –  do develop the condition. That’s quite a high percentage, is it not?






I love Glasgow, but it’s not Geneva

So I’ve swapped the flight I had for Geneva early next year for a flight to Glasgow tomorrow. I was due to go skiing with friends at the end of January – we’ve been going every year for a while now and, yes, I did appreciate how lucky I was to be able to do this – but instead at that time I’ll be recovering from a mastectomy and preparing to start a course of radiotherapy. How’s that for a change of plan?

skiingI love going back to Glasgow. But much as I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone and to being fussed over by my lovely mum and dad for a few days, I’d still far rather be going skiing. That’s not so hard to understand, is it? This will be the first time in 10 years that my girlfriends and I won’t have done this long weekend (or short week if you’re to accept my husband’s interpretation of it!). It’ll save my dad some money as it’ll also be the first time in 10 years that he hasn’t treated us to the first round of apres-ski beers! I’m hoping there will be other years.

It’s not been an easy week. I’ve been worrying about when my operation might be (Immediate reconstruction – the decision is made) and I’m completely paranoid about whether this nerve ending damage in my right foot is getting any worse (An “excellent response to treatment”). Pun+is+pun+anyone+for+tennis_05103a_4294438Watching Federer beat Djokovic at tennis at the O2 Arena here in London in the ATP World Tour Finals last night was a welcome distraction. I’d bought the tickets months ago and the boys and I were delighted to find out on Sunday it was these two who’d be playing on the evening we were going.

So Glasgow here I come. I’m already bracing myself for losing at the card school my dad, brothers and I have got planned for Saturday night. On the bright side, no matter how much I lose, it’ll be a lot cheaper than a skiing holiday!