Breast Cancer at 29 – REALLY?! Chapter 8

All Systems Go

Little did I know that this was probably going to be the busiest week I had ever known – there was so much to do. When we got back from the doctors that evening we were full of positivity; this was going to get sorted out. They knew what to do with it and it hadn’t spread.

We told my dad when we got home and then my mother-in-law called again to ask how the appointment had gone. We told her what they’d said. As she proceeded to talk more about how mixed her feelings were; how gutted she was for her but how happy she was for herself, I nodded politely. I understood what she meant; I felt for her, but by that point, I had had enough of hearing that again. I took it in the spirit it was intended, hung up the phone and `went to bed. I had lots to do to get ready for treatment; Dr Shah had told me that I needed to have my contraceptive implant removed pretty much straight away; hormones were a bad thing for me to have in my current state.

The next day was Tuesday and all I had to do was wait for the phone call. I’d been told they’d do everything they could to get me booked in for my port fitting later that week and once they had done that, chemo would start. Thinking about it that next day, I made a decision to cut and donate my long hair. I’d spent the whole year growing it long ready for the wedding, but now I was going to lose it within a few weeks and it would be wrecked by chemicals. Besides, losing it would be easier to bear if it was already short. I had always had long, thick hair, except for one misguided occasion when I was 14 years old and went for a bob that made my head look like a flying saucer. It hurt me so much to think of my hair falling out, but it was only going to be temporary. It would grow back eventually – if I lived to see it. I went online and started researching charities that took hair donations – I only found the Little Princess Trust – they make wigs for little children with hair loss. As good a cause as any; I couldn’t handle the thought of all that hair going in the bin when someone else could use it.

The phone call came from Dr Shah later that day – could I go to Bishops Wood hospital tomorrow? Where the hell’s Bishops Wood hospital, I wondered? Only bloody Harrow….quite a trek from Stevenage, but if that was where I had to go to be fit in nice and quickly, I’d go anywhere. My parents offered to drive me so that Andy could go to work and I was asked if I’d arranged to have my implant removed yet. Next job, I said. As soon as I got off the phone I called my GP, explained what had happened and asked if Dr Selvadurai could take my implant out. They didn’t have any appointments, but they’d fit me in the next day during her lunch break. Um….wow! It was cutting it a bit fine, but she’d see me and get the whole thing finished by the time I had to leave for Harrow.

The next day I went to the doctors to get this done. Whilst I was lying on the bed and the doctor took my implant out, I told her what they’d said about contraception, the treatment, everything. I couldn’t have hormones and Mollie’s mere presence is a testament to how reliable I am with barriers. Naomi had almost got the implant out, when she seemed to have a brainwave and called in the practice nurse, Jacintha (she’d done all of Mollie’s vaccinations since birth). She asked Jacintha rather casually if they happened to have any copper IUDs kicking around the place, then when the affirmative response came, looked at her and said: “Do you think we’ve got time to put a coil in?”. “Go on then.” came the response.

Both ladies went beyond the call of duty that day, giving up their break to help me get up and running and give me the best chance of getting up and running with this stuff. This was my first experience of human nature at its most beautiful and compassionate. They didn’t have to do that, but they chose to help this frightened mother who seemed far too young to be dealing with this stupid thing, just with the simplest of things like making sure she didn’t get pregnant and screw it all up. I thanked them both and left for the next appointment with my parents, to Bishop’s Wood hospital in Harrow, to have my port fitted.

Bishops Wood

When I arrived, I was shown to a cosy, quiet room. I’d never been to a private hospital before, so when I saw all the USB ports and the telly in my room, I was going ooooh. So were my parents; they were on about getting medical insurance themselves after this experience! I was originally going to be knocked out for the insertion, but they didn’t have an anaesthetist available, so I agreed to have sedation instead. I’ve never really been bothered by needles and I figured out that chemotherapy would be a lot harder than a minor operation. They booked me in, gave me a gown to change into and then came in with some Lorazepam. Had I had it before? she asked. I hadn’t, so she explained it would make me feel sleepy. My mum chuckled as I knocked them back, then I changed into my gown and chatted to my parents until it made me drowsy. I was grinning away inanely (to lift the mood a little) as the nurse wheeled me down to Theatre about 30 mins later, with my parents walking beside me and my Dad calling me a junkie ;0)

Even despite the sense of humour, I can imagine they had a pretty difficult 90 mins whilst I was in that theatre. Me, on the other hand: I was fine. I was gossiping with the surgeon, who was working with a really nice nurse, injecting me with adrenaline and asking him where he had learned to sew. I was shocked when he told me they didn’t learn to sew at medical school. I hoped he was joking! The more I talked to him, the more of a picture I had of how this worked. Dr Shah’s NHS base was Mount Vernon Cancer Centre and Bishops Wood was the private hospital within the grounds of that hospital. He’d tapped his network to get me that port fitted asap. This became the standard approach as I continued with my treatment – it also became a source of comfort to me. I greatly value the NHS and what it gives to this country, but I’ve always responded well to people who just get the job done. Because I was having private treatment, things could move faster, though I have no doubt that the speed had much to do with my age, the fact I had a young child and the stage of my disease.

The Great Insertion

Diagram to show how the portacath was fitted

He had to dig a bit of a hole out of the meat in my chest, above my healthy breast, to insert a device shaped like a small plastic heart. It had a titanium base inside it and a self-sealing rubber injection port at the top. That was where the needles would go for my chemotherapy. I was dosed to the nines with local anaesthetic, but it was uncomfortable when it went in. He then attached a tiny tube to the unit and made an incision at my collar bone, to mark where the vein would be met. The tube was then pushed into my vein until it came to rest just above my heart, then he did a chest X-Ray to make sure it was in the right place and sewed me back up again. It absolutely caned for about a week after that. The skin became stretched over it and the rules were that I could no longer do any weight lifting or be stretching my arms above my head until it was removed. Frankly, I couldn’t picture what the hell was going to happen with this thing; I was still a bit overwhelmed, but it was another job ticked off the list.

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