Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting Better All the Time

See what happens when I try to break the pattern?

Off to Round Three... people were
stopping me in the hospital corridor
commenting on how I brightened
the place up!
Here I am, finally working out that my treatment day posts are generally overly-optimistic and trying to get some perspective before I put hands to keyboard this time... and of course, half my friends get worried by the silence and send me anxious messages to ask if I'm okay.

Yes- I'm OKAY. And thanks for caring. It matters that you care.

Actually, I'm remarkably okay this time round, especially compared to Round Two's experience.  It's the morning of Day 3 and I'm still positively cruising. Dr Rosie's tank-balancing pills for Ferdinand (an acid reliever called Ozpan) have been miraculous so far, moderating both the terrible pressure of the gas in my stomach and the nasty lye-taste in my mouth. Oh- and NO HICCUPS. Hoorah!

I mean, last night I managed to cook, eat and (wonder of wonders) even taste some pan-fried Atlantic salmon, new potatoes with butter and a little ratatouille made from our home-grown eggplant, garlic and tomatoes with some onion and herbs and parmesan mixed in. It was delightful (and no, the garlic wasn't redolent of mothballs).

Bravo, Dr Rosie. By the time this chemo thing is over, we might have it all worked out.


Backtrack a few days.

By Day 21 of Cycle Two, I was feeling so relatively normal that I took to the streets of Lismore by myself again to attend to a growing to-do list. Getting out is so empowering, it's worth the fatigue factor afterwards- and besides, I wanted to spare the Bear another dose of Appointment Anxiety.

A sweet vampire at SNP took my pre-chemo bloods, which again turned out to be splendidly recovered; Dr Mellow, musing upon this later in the day, gave the nod to my attempts to do up to an hour's exercise a day as a contributing factor.

I can't stress enough how much this here couch potato has benefitted from the self-imposed exercise regime. It was about the first thing I read about handling chemo, and it is So Right. Once I've actually managed to drag the lethargic bag of lard out of bed and get through the pills-food-pills choreography for the morning, putting one foot on a pedal of the bike or pulling the Wii Fit balance board from under the TV cabinet is the only hard part left.

And then I start to feel good about myself, and either enjoy the scenery and my thoughts (if cycling) or to laugh and enjoy my own feeble efforts to improve on last time's scores on the Wii.

And if I fall back into bed for a couple of hours afterwards, so what? The blood's pumping the poison round my body and knocking out the stray Freeloader particles, I feel like there's more oxygen in my lungs, and I don't cringe quite so much at the little extra spare tyre the Dexamethasone's putting round my hips- because I know I'm doing what I can.

It's just getting that first foot out of bed, and onto the floor. That's the hard bit.


But back to Day 21. From the Twilight Zone I floated round to Shartan Hair Studio to talk about getting the Dead Setter's midnightly hue made more flattering, because the Bella look really wasn't doing it for me. Wouldn't want the SNP vampires getting ideas...

Those women at Shartan are wonderful. Amanda was so clearly delighted to see me that we enjoyed a huge hug, an examination of today's manicure design (I'd gone for the mulberry nails with leopard-claw gold dots) and a bit of a chat before we got into the nitty gritty of lightening or streaking the colour back to something more flattering for a Woman Of Somewhat Mature Years. I'll take a little hair sample round next time I'm in town, so they can do a test drive. And then I'll get the Setter styled, and maybe while my hair grows out in autumn I'll have something to keep my head warm.

Cafe Cappello called to me next (oh my, how surprising), as did the Blue Cheese Gnocchi. Oh my, indeed. Can those boys cook. It tasted incredible. I'm salivating again now just thinking about it, and three days out from chemo that's a real compliment. I sang their praises on a corner of the paper table cloth, which I'd origamied into a hat to pop on the empty (and I do mean empty) plate.

The smiles on their faces healed my heart a little more. See, my secret weapon is still working. Random acts of kindness do help me keep the anxiety and fear at bay.

Oh yes, the worry does creep in again from time to time. I still feel the little pads of fat on my neck (god I love middle age) and worry that my lymph glands under there are full of cancer. Of course I do. Any tiny bump I encounter while I'm doing my massages- cold fingers on my heart.

File it under ask Dr Mellow, push it away, and say something kind to someone who deserves it but isn't expecting it. IT WORKS.

But back to town. Satiated and smacking my lips, I moseyed on round to Femme Mystique where I picked up my Real Silicone Tit from Robyn- another gem in the Lismore breast cancer landscape. In over 20 years of fitting traumatised women, she's learned a thing or two. Like, while fitting one, sweetly invite the other to perhaps come back in fifteen minutes? Because privacy is good.

Smart woman.

Blackbird-like, I wandered into a clothing shop a few doors away where the well-displayed bling on the side reminded me how well it draws the eye from my oddly naked head. And got my own little dose of Random Acts of Kindness for the day.

"I just had to come and say you look beautiful," gushed the shop assistant, popping out from behind the counter and smiling. If she was engaged in a retail ploy, well damn, she was good at it. We had a little chat, I had a little browse feeling I could hold my head high even in a trendy clothes shop, and then I had cause to wish yet again that someone would tell the clothing manufacturers and importers of Australia that the average dame is a size 14.

No, NOT size ten, or 'small'. Read my lips. Trying to buy a stylish but sufficiently non-revealing swimsuit after a mastectomy has been complicated by the fact that no designer seems to go any higher than a skimpy 14; I did write a little note to one manufacturer pointing this out, and got a bland form letter back with no solutions. (Not good enough, Gorman.)

Disappointing, it was. Another problem to solve myself, with my op shop nous and my sewing machine.

But Robyn is far from disappointing. She made so triple-certain that I was happy with my $440 lump of squeezable silicon, that it looked perfect under clothes of any colour and fit, that I knew how to take care of it without voiding the warranty. They're surprisingly fragile, these fake tits. One misplaced safety pin and your padding is piddling. Or something. They even have a special storage box, to be used at all times. Sitting them anywhere else can cause irretrievable breakdown.

I emerged happily symmetrical, though feeling like I'd just adopted a baby.


Looking at my pendant watch to ensure I wasn't late for Dr Mellow's appointment, I noted that it most certainly wasn't 8.20am. I ducked into a jeweller to get the battery replaced and found myself in an extended conversation with an elderly, tired and sweet shop assistant whose wife has endometrial cancer and severe lymphoedema in her leg.

How lucky I am.

"It's a maintenance situation," he said diplomatically, and my heart broke for him.

We talked about who cares for the carers. He was so tired. I wanted to give him a big hug and a heap of help, but all I could offer was my ear. I think it meant something to him, at the end of another long day which was far from over when he got in his car.


So on to Dr Mellow, who has definitely managed to put Dr Mumbles six feet under. (RIP, Mumbles, and I have the acid bath waiting if you get any ideas about resurrection.)

"Any new side effects, other than the spots on the fingernails?" he joked.

Poor fingernails. It is IMPOSSIBLE to grate
ginger or garlic without massacring one's
manicure. Just sayin'.
Very droll.

He wasn't surprised about the horrible blimp that Ferdinand had become, given what the poisons would be doing to the lining of my stomach. He suggested adding more Maxalon to the drug regime along with Dr Rosie's Ozpan; I did, and I've been splendid so far.

He also suggested, smiling, that I avoid jumping to conclusions about my eyebrows and lashes, or even my residual tonsure of hair.

"It can still happen," he warned. "They might fall out at any time."


And then I started asking questions about the future, again. He reinforced what Rosie had said about the radiotherapy.

"You have to balance the benefits against the risks. You have to be convinced that it's giving you something."

We talked about what actually happens with the radiotherapy and the lymph system. Basically, the problem is the burn scarring from the X-rays blocking the channels that I've been so faithfully massaging every day to draw the liquids out of my bung arm, so the lymph eventually can't escape at all. It can be a serious problem, incapacitating the arm.


"It can be worked on," he added, "but it makes it harder."

I put it to him that my body has stood up to every test so far- was that an indication that I could stand up to the radiotherapy too? He seemed to think that was a fair assessment, without making promises.

"We would normally do radiotherapy for this grade of tumour. The chemo sweeps through your armpit and we hope it's got everything, but this is another strategy we can add to try to catch any stragglers that the surgery and chemo have missed. And the hormone therapy will help starve them too."

Back to me. My decision.


The hormone therapy gives me pause, too, because it may well throw me back into the delightful (!!) symptoms of menopause that sent me through hell ten years ago. The only thing that fixed that in the end was Chinese medicine (with my family history of gynaecological cancers I couldn't relax about the idea of HRT for more than six months), so I ran that idea past Dr Mellow too.

"It can be helpful, but you have to exclude anything that mimics oestrogen or you're undoing the benefits." And rattled off a long (long) list of do's and don'ts.

In the end my brain exploded, and I decided to ask my Chinese doctor Rochelle to send me the ingredient list of the stuff I took last time- plus any other remedies she could recommend for Dr Mellow's perusal. Forewarned, forearmed- that's my motto.


Of course there's no real way to be forearmed against the vagaries of the weather in this age of climate change. Thank heavens for Cyclone Oswald, which in the course of dumping flooding rains on Queensland has sent some precipitation and a drop in temperatures our way. The relief for my poor battered body has been tremendous, and long may it last. I actually have the energy to go around the house closing windows as the wind gusts and eddies around us, blowing out the fly screens on its way.

Right now, I can do little things like that to help myself, even with the Bear off in town attending to the shopping and other chores in case we get flooded in. And when you have cancer, you see that being able to look after yourself is a privilege you never really appreciated before.

Yep, the Beatles were right.

"It's getting better all the time... better, better, beeeeeet-ter..."

No comments:

Post a Comment