I’ve started and stopped this blog post multiple times in the past month. There are days when I almost forget that I’m still in the middle of cancer treatment, which is a good thing, but then things like doctor’s appointments or the swelling in my left armpit creep in to remind me that I’m not done yet. Not going to downplay it, some of those moments are hard. The recent heat wave didn’t help, felt like I lost a week of time trapped in the house when I’m feeling good and want to be out adventuring.
First the physical update: both my general and plastic surgeons are really happy with how the surgery went and my healing process to date. A month post-op I was given the all clear to return to my ‘normal’ life. My cardio is really lacking and I’m surprised at how much of my upper body strength I’ve lost. Thankful for a good physio, steep hiking trails close by and ‘cooler’ weather to help get me back on the right track.
I’m SO GLAD that my hair has started growing back now that summer seems to have descended on the Island with a vengeance. Wearing a bunch of makeup and tuques in 40C (I’m serious, it was 40.2C in Nanaimo a few days ago) would have made me even more miserable than I already was in the heat. Andy and I have decided that we will never live in a hot climate together since we’d probably end up killing each other. Definitely cool-weather west coasters, me especially. Now that I’m allowed to ‘be me’ we’ve been paddle boarding and before the heat wave started I was doing timed hikes up Benson in an attempt to get my cardio back up. Natasha came for a visit last weekend and we managed to get a half hour up Benson before the heat at 8am was too much and we headed back down.
Next steps….because I opted for a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy I’ll be heading to Victoria mid-July to undergo a course of daily radiation. My general surgeon was telling me that he can pretty accurately predict whether a woman will opt for a full mastectomy (no radiation usually required) vs a lumpectomy, when presented with a choice, based purely on how far away a cancer centre is. Another example of how healthcare is so different depending on where you live and your socio-economic status. Being able to afford a month in Victoria or Vancouver at a nice place with your family is a lot more palpable than staying at one of the free ‘cancer hotels’ and travelling back and forth to your community every Monday and Friday.
I’m excited to report that I’ve been accepted into a clinical trial looking at the efficacy of five treatments of higher dose radiation over five days vs the conventional sixteen treatments over 3.5 weeks at a lower dose on the treatment of women who have had an axillary dissection (lymph nodes removed). The Canadian trial is building upon an ongoing trial in the UK which is focused on this short/long course treatment protocol for the breast tumour only. Unfortunately (?) I’ve been randomized into the long course group so will be spending weekdays in Victoria between July 20 and August 11. One of the best parts of the trial is that the team at BC Cancer will follow me with annual work ups for ten years. TEN YEARS! How cool is that?!?! You can find more information on the trials at the links below.
Randomized Trial of Hypofractionated Locoregional Radiotherapy in Breast Cancer and Lymphedema (RHEAL)
Hypofractionated breast radiotherapy for 1 week versus 3 weeks (FAST-Forward): 5-year efficacy and late normal tissue effects results from a multicentre, non-inferiority, randomised, phase 3 trial.
The start date is really good since I can attend Carly and Brad’s wedding in Ucluelet and comfort her dog Hazel during the ceremony, No, Rory isn’t coming although we did think about that [think of two dogs boisterously wrestling and double peeing on things during the ceremony….] I’m even going to try to get my noodle-arms into the ocean and see if I still know what a surfboard is for….
The emotional side of this whole cancer-thing catches me off guard sometimes. Finding out from my oncologist a few weeks ago that my cancer was “locally advanced Stage 3” (based on the post-op pathology) was a kick in the gut. As I’ve done through this whole process I don’t let my brain go down the dark “what if” rabbit hole, instead focusing on the “holy shit I’m glad I listened to my body and have such a great GP”. I’m acutely aware of the potential for a big emotional dump once radiation is over and especially since I’ll be starting on anti-hormone therapy and bone building infusions at the same time. Somewhat surprisingly I’ve connected with a wonderfully unconventional healer who has been along for the journey and I’m looking forward to continuing that. BC Cancer also offers counselling for both me and my family.
For now am maintaining a positive mental outlook by embracing my new-normal and so very thankful that includes SAR, celebrating the return of eyelashes, eyebrows and hair on my head, preparing for my final paramedic licensing exam in Sept, and looking forward to spending time with my Mom, sis, brother-in-law, nephew and Victoria-friends for a few weeks.