Blog: The Big J vs The Big C

Making the breast of a bad situation ...
On 4 October 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This blog will chart my progress through treatment, and continued enjoyment of life, love and friendship.
​Expect humour, irreverance, occasional sadness, and staunch defence of the National Health Service.
​Btw, that picture is not me. :-)

The Fading of Pain

Yesterday was my first day without painkillers since my hysterectomy twelve days before. Whoop. Not my first day without pain, note, but my first day without pain that had to be killed.

Moreover, the previous day saw my wound dressings removed, with no replacement needed, and permission given by the practice nurse to have a bath! I have celebrated by having several baths every day since. (That might be an exaggeration.)

Lesions and Adhesions

This morning, I ventured out of the house for the first time since my hysterectomy last Thursday. It wasn't the most exciting outing, but it feels like something of an achievement.

I left hospital on Friday with instructions to go to my GP surgery on Monday to have my dressings changed. There are three of these, each a little square of bandage over a small laparoscopy wound. These are the three slots where the keyhole surgery kit was inserted. One is on my belly button and has two stitches; and one on either side of my tummy with a stitch each. Each also has a rather attractive mottled blue, red and purple bruise, the navel bruise being the most striking and aesthetic. Dressings removed, wounds wiped, new dressings applied, job done.

Waiting to see the nurse, I read my hospital discharge notes and Googled the various terms thereon. It revealed a picture of my insides reminiscent of a horror movie.

Hysterectomy, with a little Hysteria

The alarm sounded at five o'clock, I drank the two bottles of pre-op somethng-or-other the hospital had given me, reset the alarm for six fifteen and went back to sleep. I'd only been in bed since midnight, after a delayed train journey back from a couple of days working in Glasgow, so when I got up again and went to the hospital for my hysterectomy, I felt like I could have gone to sleep for the operation without any assistance from the anaesthetists.

The nurse gave me the usual gown to change into, a pair of tights with grips on the soles, and also a pair of hospital knickers. What an absurd item of underwear these are. I refuse to believe that anyone is actually that shape.

The good news was that I was number one on the surgical schedule, so I was soon wheeled off to the room where they send you away with the fairies. I've been through this routine six (or is it seven?) times before, so I am well used to it. Other than the prick in the left hand as they set up the cannula, it is quite a pleasant experience, drifting off to controlled unconsciousness looking forward to waking up with it all over, maybe a little uncomfortable but sufficiently drugged up to feel relieved, relaxed and happy.

Whipping it all out

This morning, I was at Homerton Hospital preparing for surgery next month. So, what's occurring?

Back in January, the medics discovered something dodgy on my cervix. It turned out to be a cervical ectropion - nothing too serious, but it would need some investigation and treatment. (It's probably related to my having had endometriosis for many years, though fortunately, much more mildly than many women do.) Well, I pondered to myself, what's the point of treating this ectropion thing? Aged fifty, with all my child-bearing done, I don't even need a cervix any more anyway. 

Then I remembered the long list of Tamoxifen side effects, and that it included increased likelihood of uterine cancer. That's annoying, I thought: I don't even need my uterus any more.

And then I found out that having your ovaries removed reduces your chance of breast cancer coming back. That's interesting, I mulled: I don't even need my ovaries any more.

You can see where I'm going here, can't you?

Responses

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.
How awful.
I don't know what to say.

At least they caught it early.
Oh, they didn't?
Well, I'm sure you'll still be OK.

My friend's got that.
She's having chemo -
Head down the toilet all day.

My mum had that. They gave her a year.
That was sixteen years ago -
She's still here!

Hot Boobs and a Weekend in Hospital

I haven't blogged for some time, I suspect because I have been trying to see myself as Woman Without Cancer, ex-cancer patient, person with a past problem. Then when that delusion blew up in my face (well, down my side, actually - gory details to follow), I was too knocked out to sound off. 

So, what's the story (morning glory)?

Disinfected Middle-Aged Women

The Disaffected Middle-Aged Women are having a spell in hospital ...

A ward where women fight cirrhosis
Cysts or endometriosis
Battling germs with hourly doses
We're Disinfected Middle-Aged Women

Sutures, dressings and a clip
Special socks so we don't slip
En route to the loo with an IV drip
We're Disinfected Middle-Aged Women

Behind the Headlines: Tories' Cancer Drugs Fund Exposed as Rip-Off

Today’s headline is that the Cancer Drugs Fund, which was announced by the Tories in 2010 and ran until 2016, was a ‘huge waste of money’. The Annals of Oncology journal has published a study led by Professor Richard Sullivan of King’s College London, who also described the Fund as a ‘major policy error’.

The Conservatives thought they could pick up a few votes in 2010 by promising to fund expensive cancer drugs that the NHS was not funding, and the CDF was the result. It funded cancer patients to receive medications which had not yet been approved by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Launched in 2011 with a budget of £200 million, the Fund was supposed to be a stopgap while alternatives were developed, and was initially scheduled to run until 2014. However, the government did not pursue its alternative policy, the ominous-sounding Value-Based Pricing, and instead extended the CDF until 2016, by which time it had been denounced by the Cancer Taskforce and the National Audit Office as unsustainable, and some doctors - including Richard Sullivan - were calling it an ‘unethical fix’ and a ‘waste of public money’. Still the Conservatives promised in their 2015 election manifesto that ‘We will continue to invest in our lifesaving Cancer Drugs Fund’ and issued the poster pictured, only to scrap the CDF a year later, absorbing it into NICE.

Back at Bart's

Today I was back at Bart's for my radiotherapy follow-up appointment, to check how I coped with the treatment and any problems I have had since. The appointment can be summarised thus: Hi. How are you? Show us your boob. Oh, that looks great. See you in December. Bye. (I may have had encounters like this in the past, although not with doctors.)

Please do not infer from this summary any dismissiveness or rush on the part of the doc. Rather, feel free to infer the splendid news that I am heading at a rapid rate towards the light at the end of cancer's tunnel. The marvellous oncologist Doctor Wolstenholme checked me over, reassured me that everything was healing just as it should and that the oedema is on its way out. She was mightily impressed with my tales of my randomly-leaking nipple and squirting antics. I have the feeling that oedema does not usually happen this way. Once again, my breasts function in a very different dimension to the average mammary.

Mind the Gap: Cancer and Class

... or 'The Lumpen Proletariat' ...

Over recent decades, UK cancer death rates have fallen significantly. They began falling in the late 1980s, and by 2006 had fallen by 17%. More people than ever before are surviving cancer, with 78% of women in England and Wales still alive ten years after their breast cancer diagnosis (2010-11).

But there are still big differences between cancer outcomes depending on how wealthy you are. Economic inequality - the polite term for 'class divisions' - is linked to 19,000 cancer deaths per year.

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