A little smooch

It’s been a tough gig but after an initial operation, 18 weeks of chemotherapy & 3 weeks of radiotherapy, it’s finally over & I have to say it’s been the longest 6 months ever!

Each set of treatment has left its own mark. The operation has left a 4 inch scar, the chemo has made me unbelievably tired even 6 weeks on & the area of skin affected by the radiotherapy is pink & covered with a prickly heat rash.

    I’ve learnt that whilst being positive & optimistic doesn’t cure you (hopefully the medical treatment does), it sure helps you get through it & come out the other side with some emotional stability. And that you have to live for today, we all presume that we have a lot of tomorrows to enjoy… but you never know what’s round the corner ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ.

So how do I feel? Blooming relieved, exhausted & without getting all happy clappy – very thankful.

The support from you guys has been fantastic, so heart felt thanks for your generosity – the cards, flowers, plants, biscuits, books, puzzles, booze, chocolates & ginger teabags – I’ve drunk a lot of ginger tea, not sure I ever will again! And my need to eat Maltesers is finally receding ๐Ÿ˜‚

The phone calls, texts & messages of support have been immense, you may not have realised it but they have really helped me get through the darker moments, the steroid induced waking hours between 4 & 6am & the laying on the settee feeling a bit sorry for myself times – so huge thanks to all of you ๐Ÿ™

And a big up to the dedicated NHS staff who have been there every step of the way, from pre-diagnosis to being at the end of a phone as required. During my treatment for breast cancer I can honestly say that I have not met one member of NHS staff who hasn’t treated me with compassion, honesty & kindness.

So a further 9 months of 3 weekly herceptin injections & quarterly cardiac rest tests, to check the herceptin isn’t damaging my heart. Along with 3 years of taking a daily bisphosphonate tablet, to strengthen my bones as breast cancer & the treatment can seriously weaken your bones, then hopefully I’m as good as new.

Wishing you all a fabulous & healthy 2019.

Big love ๐Ÿ’—

Judy x

Cue the lights

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when having radiotherapy, other than presuming it would be a lot easier than the traumas of chemotherapy. And currently it’s all going to plan.

My treatment is at St James Hospital in Leeds & I’ve having 15 sessions (weekdays only) from 4th December through to Christmas Eve, so get me, all done for the festive period๐ŸŽ„.

The main drawback with radiotherapy is the relentlessness of having to go every day, around an hour travel each way (or more traffic dependant) for what should be a 10 to 15 minute appointment, providing there are no delays. I know, it’s a bit like going to work but for a lot less hours ๐Ÿ˜. My quickest appointment time so far has been 7 minutes from my name been called, to walking back out!

Oh and the parking – you need to allow a good 10 minutes to drive round the multi-storey to find a parking space, but on the plus side when you are having daily treatment you don’t have to pay for the privilege of parking.

I’m told that the key side effects of radiotherapy are tiredness & skin issues similar to sunburn. To be honest as I’m still knackered from the chemo, I’m not really noticing the tiredness!

I’d been recommended loads of different creams to use which ideally you do need to use a couple of times a day, but the hospital have suggested Aveeno (the one that Jennifer Anniston advertisers) so if it’s good enough for Jennifer…

Now for those of you who when thinking of radiotherapy, imagine the Sean Connery scene in Goldfinger where the laser is cutting through the table – I’m sorry to disappoint but it’s not like that at all! You can see where the laser comes from in the ceiling but you can’t see it or feel anything whilst it’s in action & yes it’s almost a bit of a letdown ๐Ÿ˜‚.

7 sessions down 8 to go – nearly there!

Judy x

Last tango

So I’m pleased to say that the last cycle of chemo is now behind me๐Ÿ’ฅ ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

The herceptin injection & the chemo went well and my white blood count was still good at 5.55. A doctor had been to see me whilst I was having chemo regarding having the runs for a week the previous cycle & they prescribed a type of Imodium & codeine in case it manifested again.

The chemo ward staff & volunteers (the lovely ladies who bring round the drinks & food) have all been amazing, so I took in some baking – rocky road & lemon drizzle cake along with a thank you card. With any luck our paths won’t cross again ๐Ÿ˜‰.

They donโ€™t have a ๐Ÿ”” on this ward to ring at the end of your final chemo but one of the nurses has a noisy bell ring on her phone, I left the ward to lots of bell ringing, hugs & well wishes all round!

So what side effects have I had this time, well it’s not been brill but it could have been worse. I’ve had some tummy trouble again but took the Imodium each time straightaway & the codeine before bed & it kept it under control. I’ve struggled a bit with an aching lower back along with some mild neuropathy in my fingers & toes. I have also been dreadfully tired & if I’m honest I have been quite grumpy ๐Ÿ˜ก.

I had my radiotherapy planning meeting in which they have reminded me of the potential side effects (they seem quite minor after chemo) & I’ve signed the consent form. The main purpose of the appointment is to set you up on the machine, once you’ve been man handled into position, the area of skin to be treated is marked up with pen & you are then tattooed with 3 small dots with which they line up the rays.

I’m 56 & I’ve got my first tatts ๐Ÿ˜‚.

The radiotherapy consists of 15 daily sessions (Monday to Fridays) starting Tuesday 4th December until the 24th so I will be finished for Christmas – ok it’s a bit close to the wire ๐Ÿ˜… but I’m really pleased it’s not dragging on over the holiday period.

On more exciting news I think my hair is starting to grow back as I’ve got the tiniest bit of grey fluff on my head. I’m going to take regular photos as a record of my hair growth – I know it’s a bit sad but I’ve really missed my hair ๐Ÿ™. My eyebrows & eyelashes stopped falling out a couple of weeks ago so hopefully they will start to come back soon – fingers crossed.

Judy x

And the beat goes on ๐ŸŽถ

At the risk of repeating myself this chemo malarky seems to be lasting forever. To me the last 13 weeks have been the longest ever, yet one of the chemo nurses said “it doesn’t seem 2 minutes since your first cycle” – really? Not from where I’m sitting love! ๐Ÿ˜‚

So we’re heading into the home straight. My blood tests 11 days ago were ok, although my hb was slightly low at 9.8 which might account for feeling a bit breathless but the good news was that I was ok for my 5th & penultimate ๐Ÿ˜ฎ cycle of chemo.

After the herceptin injection, the chemo was given at a reduced dosage (75%) this new amount should keep my white blood count at a reasonable level, thereby reducing the risk of infection.

So the first few days after chemo were uneventful, through upfront use of anti sickness & heartburn tablets I’ve not had any of these side effects. Although I have had a number of mouth ulcers along with a nasty metallic taste & the usual fatigue. The tiredness is turning into the “new normal” as I can’t remember the last time that I had oodles of energy๐Ÿ’ฅ & didn’t feel exhausted!

Two days after chemo, I started the daily injections to increase my white blood cells. Although since the massive amount of antibiotics I had last cycle, my white blood count was up to 8.37 from 0.36! So with the reduced dosage of chemo & a good starting point, I was thinking I should cruise ๐Ÿšข this cycle.

Also on the plus side the bone pain has been to a much lesser degree than last time, mainly limited to my lower back & much more bearable.

The main side effect this cycle has been a prolonged attack of the runs (I know, too much information ๐Ÿ˜‚) which has lasted around a week. This has necessitated in me barely leaving the safety of the house (& proximity of the loo) for the last week!

As I had a reduced dose of chemo this time, it’s more likely that it is the injections which have caused the runs as it can be one of their side effects, although I didn’t have this problem last time ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ.

The oncologist had said that the effects of treatment are cumulative, so who knows what the next cycle will bring…

Anyway 5 down & 1 to go – we are so nearly there!

Judy x

Step change

Last week took an unexpected change in direction when I was admitted to hospital for 48 hours with neutropenic sepsis, which when you read the official description as below is a little bit scary.

“Life threatening complication of anti cancer treatment the term is used to describe a significant inflammatory response to a presumed bacterial infection in a person with or without fever”.

Now in my case I did have a fever, my white blood count was very low & apparently I was also at high risk of venous thromboembolus (blood clot). ๐Ÿ‘€

So I spent 2 x days in hospital, had 6 x IV antibiotics infusions, 1 x anti coagulant injection along with numerous pain killers (to combat my horrendous back pain), until my temperature stabilised & my white blood count increased enough to be allowed home.

The worrying thing is since the latest chemo I’d had to inject daily with Filgrastim to encourage my bone marrow to generate more white blood cells , cue massive bone pain – presumably it must have worked to some degree or my hospital stay could have been extended!

So I came home with more antibiotics & an appointment to see my oncologist the following week, to assess how we approach the next cycle due to the severity of my reaction to the last chemo. On the plus side at least we know that the chemo’s doing it’s job – destroying everything in its way ๐Ÿ’ฅ

Regrettably I also had to cancel my Pink Party โ˜น๏ธ as I wasn’t well enough to host. Big thanks to anyone who has donated via the various formats – it’s much appreciated ๐Ÿ‘

In other news whilst I’ve got used to having a bald head (although it’s not a good look), I feel quite upset that my eyebrows & particularly my eyelashes are losing the fight. It’s a sad day when you’ve not enough eyelashes to apply mascara ๐Ÿ‘

So I saw the oncologist yesterday, we talked through all the issues / side effects from the last cycle & the decision has been made to keep on track with the scheduled chemo dates, but reduce the dosage by 20-25% as unfortunately the effects will be cumulative over the next 2 cycles

It’s still a bit daunting but the chemo won’t last forever – just need to get through the next 7 weeks…

Judy x

T ๐Ÿ’ƒ

After last weeks chemo which was my 4th cycle I am now over the hump ๐Ÿ˜. The 4th, 5th & 6th cycles are based on a different drug to what I’ve had previously. For these 3 cycles I’m having Docetaxel which goes by the trade name Taxotere & known in the cancer world as T. This is a high strength 3rd generation drug which when administered along with the herceptin improves my longer term survival rates by a further 5-6%.

Unfortunately this badass drug has all the side effects of the previous drugs & a few additional ones of its own. The key one being neuropathy which can cause weakness, numbness & pain particularly in your hands & feet. Obviously not everyone gets all the side effects so I’m hoping I don’t develop this one as it can have long term effects. Along with the possible heart issues from the herceptin it could be an interesting 9 weeks.

So last Monday I had the first dose of herceptin which is injected into an alternative thigh on a 3 weekly basis. The injection took all of a minute but I had to rest on the ward for a total of 6 hours in case of any serious side effect. Absolutely nothing to see, but better safe than sorry!

Out of interest I did a little research on herceptin & this is the description I found.

“1 vial of 5mL contains 600mg of trastuzumab,a humanised lgG1 monoclonal antibody produced by mammalian (Chinese hamster ovary) cell suspension culture & purified by affinity and ion exchange chromatography including specific viral inactivation and removal procedures”

Now I’ve no idea what it means, but who on earth actually had the thought to try it?

Whilst at the hospital on Monday I also had to start taking a higher dose of steroids in preparation for T chemo Tuesday. Now surprisingly the T chemo started well, I’ve not had any sickness, nausea or heartburn but will await to see if any other side effects turn up!

I have also had to start injecting myself daily for 1 week with Filgrastim, this is to encourage my bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. A district nurse came to the house to show me how to do the first injection, then I’m ok to do them on my own! The injections are daily for a week and apparently can cause severe bone pain! However it will be worth it as the additional white blood cells are to try & fight off any infection due to the lowered immunity.

So this was the first time I’ve ever injected myself & it was fine. I was a bit worried that you had to stab yourself with the needle, but it’s a very fine needle that you just slide 45 degrees into a pinch of stomach fat & plunge in the medication.

The good news is that rather than three separate visits next cycle for a blood test, herceptin injection & chemo, I can do all three on one day – so a longer day but only one trip out! Winner winner!

So a few days in & I ache all over, have random intermittent shooting pains, feel like I’ve been kicked by a horse, have tingly fingers & toes but on a plus side I don’t feel sick ๐Ÿคข

I’ve been continuing my daily walks but if I’m honest with the bone pain along with the fatigue, I’ve been needing a couple of nana naps ๐Ÿ’ค every day. However yesterday I had no energy for a walk, felt shocking, checked my temperature & it was high. After phoning the chemo unit for advice I was admitted to hospital, blood tests determined that my white blood count was very low so I’ve had 2 lots of IV antibiotics. The Filgrastim hasn’t really done its’ job but I suppose without it I would have succumbed earlier.

I’ve also been given a little bit of morphine ๐Ÿ‘€ for the bone pain, but to be honest it’s not making much difference.

I’ve more IV antibiotics in the morning – 6am apparently – hopefully if my white blood count improves they may let me home in the afternoon.

Got to confess to feeling a bit sorry ๐Ÿ˜ for myself…

Judy x

Pinktober Fest

You may be aware that October is breast awareness month – Pinktober – with lots of charities & companies utilising it to persuade you, the lovely public to get involved in splashing your cash.

Pink is the colour of choice based on the pink ribbon breast cancer logo.

Whilst I’m totally in favour of people donating (obviously other charities are available), please read the small print to be satisfied that you are donating to charities / companies that actually use a reasonable amount of the money for research or to offer support for cancer sufferers.

If anyone is interested – Cancer Research & Breast Cancer Care UK are two great organisations. For an example as my breast cancer is HER2 positive I am receiving an herception injection every 3 weeks for a year which started this week. Without cancer research & extensive trials this treatment would not be available & my long term survival rates would be reduced. Also Breast Cancer Care UK offer a fantastic support network on a professional & personal basis both during & after treatment. A lot of the support is undertaken by volunteers who have been through a cancer journey themselves & want to give something back ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘.

Do I think that the diagnosis & treatment of breast cancer is pink, fluffy & fun? Well not unsurprisingly it’s a no from me. But it is a way to create dialogue & to encourage people to get involved. Pink is perceived as a feminine colour & around *62,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, (but let’s not forget that it also effects around *340 guys a year as well). So if Pinktober, Pink Parties & Dress In Pink Days help to create awareness, encourage more women to check their boobs, attend their mammograms & motivate additional donations then I’m all for it.

Treatment permitting, as I am undergoing 2 cycles of herceptin & chemo in October – which for some reason 2 cycles in a month sounds more daunting than 1 every 3 weeks ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ. I’m going to host a little Pink Party of my own Mid-October & serve a few friends with afternoon tea along with a bit of fun.

The day before if I feel ok I will bake bread & buns for the occasion, if not there’s always the supermarket, either way we’ll have a good couple of hours & raise some money.

I know that a lot of you top people give regularly to charities that are close to your hearts, but just in case you’ve found a couple of quid down the back of the settee ๐Ÿ›‹, here’s a shameless plug for anyone who would like to contribute to my Pink Party fundraising.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/JudyDerbyshire

Judy ๐Ÿ’— x

P.S. No points for guessing which charity the Christmas cards will be from this year ๐Ÿ˜‰

*stats from breastcancercare