Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy New Year!!

I know I'm a bit late with the New Years wishes and I hope you forgive and take my thoughts and wishes regardless of my lateness?!

I've been enjoying a two week break over Christmas and New Year, a much needed time for both me and Paul to chill out, spend time with our friends and family and try and get our new flat a bit more organised!

Christmas was quite low key and chilled out for both of us but it was just what I needed, I know some of my family wanted to make it a 'big thing' for me considering my circumstances this year but it wasn't something I wanted so we spent Christmas Day in Scotland with Paul's family, once again winning the annual game of Trivial Pursuit with the usual bickering and calls of cheating involved!

We then travelled down to England to spend Boxing Day to New Years Eve Eve (is there another name for the day before New Years Eve?!) with my family.
This was made even better by the fact that we ended up having two Christmas dinners because my brother and his fiance didn't go to my parent's house until Boxing Day either so my Mum and Dad saved making Christmas dinner until then!
It's by far my favourite meal of the year, I love a good Sunday roast and Christmas dinner is like a Sunday roast on speed!

Also due to the wonders of chemo, I was able to eat everything everyone else could eat!! A few months ago I had Sunday lunch at my parents house and had to eat mashed potato and gravy while watching everyone else tuck in to the full meat and roast potatoes and vegetables!!

Christmas also came a bit earlier in our flat too because on Christmas Eve I received a letter in the post from my doctor.
I have been declared operable!! My little friend is suitably tiny and contained enough for him to be cut out of me and sent on his way into the big bad world!!

So this time next week I will be getting ready to go into hospital for the biggest single event in my life so far.

The operation is massive (or so I keep being told) a full 10 / 11 hours in surgery resulting in a massive scar across the full width of my chest and another one down my side, broken ribs to get into my chest, a lung collapsed to gain access to my oesophagus and stomach and approximately 1/3 of my oesophagus and 1/2 of my stomach being removed to make sure the full tumour is removed.

I'll then be in hospital for about two weeks and recovering at home for months.

On the plus side the operation is affectionately known as the shark bite op due to the shape of the scar on my chest so I'm hoping to come up with some appropriately amazing 'stories' to go along with my new body art!!

To be quite honest I'm terrified but there is no other way around this.
My little hitch-hiker is too fond of my body to be removed by chemo alone and therefore needs a surgeon's push to leave me alone!

I have the advantage of being a lot younger and fitter then the 'typical' patient for this type of cancer and I figure if a 60 something man who has smoked and drank all his life can get through this op and the recovery then I can.
I mean I did swim two miles in freezing cold open water with cancer!!
(I didn't know I had cancer at that point of course but from what the doctor has said regarding how long the tumour has probably been there I worked out that I technically had cancer when I completed my swim!!)

So I'm hoping 2013 is going to be my year - I will get through this and I'm determined to be stronger and fitter than I was when I went in to this horrible disease.

I feel gradually able to start making plans once again.
Now when I look further than a few weeks ahead there is a hazy grey instead of the solid black which is all I could see for weeks.

Now more than ever, I don't want to wish my life away but my resolution for 2013 is simply to see 2014!!

I will have goals in between that, I'm starting to think of the ways I can repay the many people who have helped me along this journey and lend a hand to those going through this too but first I need to get myself healthy - I have to get through this operation and then another 9 gruelling weeks of chemo but then I'm hoping to get good results in my end scan that all the tumour is gone and I can start making real plans once again!!

I hope everyone else had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and that you have some great goals to meet for 2013 - lets make it the best year yet!!

I'm thinking 13 isn't going to be so unlucky for me after all!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I’ve not forgotten you!!


I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post, I’ve been very busy these past few weeks.

Last week I finished my third and last round of chemo for now and I’ll be honest and say it totally and utterly floored me. Worse than the other two rounds of chemo. I was totally wiped out for three days as in I don’t remember them because I was asleep for three days. Yup you heard that right THREE WHOLE DAYS!! It really did take it’s toll on me and it took about two weeks for me to feel right again.

My chemo tablets ended last week and even they have had a go at me in a sense, my hands and feet are incredibly sore, like a sunburn kind of sore and very dry and flaky too, I’ve had to ask for help on opening bottles and lids because it hurts my fingers and my dexterity has dropped too, I find it hard to pick up coins from a table for example. It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me and a bit of an experience asking for help from others because I’m a very independent person and I’ve had to lower my pride and ask for people to help me at times.

I had my CT scan last week which will hopefully determine if I’m operable or not but it was a complete disaster because they couldn’t find a vein to put a cannula in for the high resolution dye they use for the scans and believe me they tried!! 
They tried a total of eight times to get a needle into me including once on my foot!! 
Three of the times they tried it resulted in my vein collapsing which basically meant that I bled a lot from that insertion point so a nurse had to compress that area for what seemed like ages and to say it stung is an understatement!! I’m now covered in bruises on various points over my arms and hands but on the plus side they don’t hurt anymore.
I don’t in any way blame the doctor that was trying to find my veins, my veins are notoriously bad to get a hold of and he was trying his best – it wasn’t a great experience for me but in the grand scheme of things it was nothing.

My main worries about this is that because they did the scan plain i.e. with no dye they won’t get as good a picture as they would have liked to have gotten so I worry that they won’t be able to make the decision of whether I’m operable or not with it and I’m sure you understand that it’s a pretty important thing in my life right now!!

My other concern is that they are going to have to find a vein for me to have my operation (if I’m declared operable) and what happens if they can’t? I’m not sure if they have other ways of putting people under but it worries me that at 27 my veins are next to none existent!! What happens when I’m a little old lady and need a blood test, operation etc when veins are expected to be hard to find?!

I should get my results in the New Year regarding operability – it’s my biggest Christmas wish right now and everything else pales into insignificance.

Apart from all that I’ve been having plenty of ‘Cancer Free’ days I’ve spent time with friends and family and I’ve been trying to work as much as possible to give me a decent amount of money to see me through being off work after my operation.

My boyfriend, Paul and I also bought our first home together, a flat in Glasgow and we moved in at the weekend – that was an event in itself because the flat is three floors up with no lift so I spent most of the weekend hauling boxes up three flights of stairs!! 

We have absolutely nothing in the flat at the moment, we are sleeping on a mattress on the floor and are sitting on deck chairs in the living room but I already love it! I love being able to see Paul every evening and, having only lived in rented accommodation up until this point, I love that we can change anything we want and really put our own stamp on the place.

We have ordered most of the main pieces of furniture but due to it being Christmas we might not get some of it until January. It’s amazing how these things don’t bother me any more though I’m not sure if it’s due to the cancer or because it’s simply our place and things will fall into place in their own time.

Other than that life is pretty good, I’m getting a bit of my hair back already, its more of a fuzz than its been in a while and I’m feeling pretty great in terms of my energy and health – I keep saying to everyone who asks, apart from the fact I know I’ve got cancer, I feel great!! 

I’m going to start jogging again soon to try and keep my fitness up before my operation (I’m totally believing that I’m operable) but on the plus side of my having chemo and the fact that I’m going to lose a lot of weight after my operation, I’m eating whatever I like and not really putting on weight!! 
I’ve put on five pounds since starting chemo which has been actively encouraged by my doctors and I’m enjoying being able to eat solid foods and go out to restaurants and not have to wonder where the toilets are or what on the menu I can eat!!

I’m actually looking forward to Christmas dinner, it’s one of my favourite meals of the year and I’m very glad I’ll be able to taste and chew it all rather than being served mashed potatoes and gravy like I had to eat before!! Don’t get me wrong I love mashed potato and gravy but when you’re surrounded by people eating a full Sunday roast dinner (my favourite meal) it breaks your heart a little bit!!

Anyway, I’m sorry for not being around much – I’m still here, still fighting and still enjoying every bit of life that I’m living because I’ve realised more than ever that it’s all precious.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Food!!!

This is a very happy post!!

After spending the last few months being restricted to a liquid / mush diet due to not being able to eat food because it kept getting stuck in my throat I've been able to eat solid food again!
You have no idea what a blessing that is for my morale. For one reason because it's now a bit easier to keep my energy levels up by eating more calorie dense foods but it's also making a mental difference to me too, the tumour must be getting smaller if I can now swallow solids right?!
My chemo is doing it's amazing job and beating back the growth (at least) of the tumour and with my few and far between symptoms it seems my body is playing ball too by keeping as healthy as possible to allow me to have enough energy to fight this.

It's very strange having to change my mindset regarding calories and exercise having been on this weight loss journey for what seems like forever but with a little modification I have all the tools already that I need to deal with this.

Food
I've been told that I'll probably lose weight whilst on chemo and I'll lose a lot of weight after my operation (In the region of three stone or 42 pounds apparently) so at the moment I need to consume as many calories as possible in order to maintain my weight before my operation.
I still want to eat healthily as I totally believe I need as many nutrients as possible at this moment in time but it has meant that I have made a few changes to my diet, mainly to full fat options ie milk, cheese, yogurt etc
I also plan (now I can eat solids again) to make homemade pasta sauces and serve that with wholemeal pasta for long lasting energy but it's also nice being able to eat chips (fries) whenever I feel like it!!

It's quite hard doing this after being on a 'diet' for so long but I need to think about the bigger picture here and the likelihood is I'll be classed as underweight after I've been through my operation and my energy levels and my body's ability to fight both the cancer and any other diseases / infections that may appear whilst my immune system is decimated when on chemo is the more important battle at the moment. I'm expecting to have the rest of my life (a long one) to deal with any weight issues I may or may not have.

The good thing about being on a diet for so long is that food accountability / calorie counting comes very easily to me. One thing I'm very good at is keeping track of what I'm eating and how much - I just need to turn this around and make sure I'm no longer creating a deficit.

Exercise
I have sadly made the decision to cancel my gym membership for now.
I accept that in the next few months I probably won't have the energy to go to the gym and due to my low immune system I've been told that even swimming is off the cards due to the warm and wet environment poolside which also happens to be the ideal germ breeding ground.
The other thing that often occurs at the gym, especially during strength training which I was a big fan of, is micro trauma where you intentionally tear your muscles very slightly. This then encourages your muscle to rebuild and in doing so it rebuilds bigger / stronger to attempt to prevent the injury again.
Whilst on chemo the last thing I need to be doing is creating trauma in other parts of my body, I need my body's energy to be totally focussed on beating this tumour and recovering from my surgery.

So my plan is to try and get out and walk as much as possible - my main form of exercise is going to be this.
On days that I'm feeling a bit more energetic then I'll be continuing with my dance classes for both exercise and my state of mind - it's something I really enjoy doing and that will in itself make me feel better
I've also bought a ballet DVD so that if I'm house bound I could still get in a bit of gentle exercise and stretching.

Once again, I intend to have the rest of my life to get back into shape / keep fit but for now my goals are on hold.
I'm just very glad and grateful that I managed to bring fitness into my life and make it part of my routine before all of this happened because I know how much I enjoy it and I have no fear that I will get back to it in due course.

I weighed in yesterday and I have managed to maintain my weight from last week which is a good thing for me, which I probably owe in part to my bowls of porridge made with full fat milk, golden syrup and peanut butter, seriously guys it's like a big hug in a bowl!!

All in all I have no grumbles with life at the moment!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chemo Days

I've had a pretty good last few days to be honest.

My chemo session was pretty uneventful and I'm happy to say my side effects have been minimal.
The main thing that I experienced was nausea and general lack of appetite, things that I used to love to eat now seem to turn my stomach when I think of them, mainly sweet things which I suppose isn't such a bad thing!!

I'm currently laid in bed with my laptop on my knee because I'm working from home today - once again work has been amazing through all of this and have said I can work from home as much as I'd like to and it's going to be a life saver in terms of both my income and my health - I'm still feeling very tired from my chemo session last week.
So I'm all snuggled up against a lovely crisp Autumn day with my work scattered around me having just eaten lunch and taken all my magic pills and I might even have a wee afternoon nap in a bit!

I'm still not used to how much good feeling is coming my way through all of this - I'm humbled and honoured to 'know' so many well meaning people whether in real life or you guys who read this - your kind words and thoughts do not go unnoticed and I'd just like to take the time to say thank you now

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cancer fighting begins

I'm writing this post from my hospital bed surrounded by a pretty decent breakfast and the most amazing nurses you could hope for. Seriously everyone here must have angel status because they are so kind and attentive, friendly and upbeat. I try to be as kind and helpful as possible in life (I totally live by the mantra of 'nastiness is just wasted energy' and I've been on the receiving end of far too many nasty things to ever want to pass that particular present on!!)

Anyway, I was admitted yesterday morning and my day consisted of blood tests, weighings and an ECG, the chemo drugs they are putting me on can mess with my heart so they wanted to get a 'baseline' of my rhythm so that they know if anything starts going wrong.

Then, after hundreds (or so it's seemed) of people coming to talk to me about my medication, possible side effects and my chemo drug process, my magic potions arrived and the fight has begun! My first chemo drug had to be bolused (I'm sorry I have no idea how to spell that!!) into my system which means that a patient nurse had to sit with me for about forty minutes and manually inject the drug into me!! Then, because the second drug I'm being given can mess with my kidneys I have to make sure that they're well hydrated so I was given a bag of saline, a bag of potassium, a bag of magnesium and a bag of heavy duty anti sickness drugs (one of the other side effects) each of this bags takes an hour to drip through so it was another four hours down the line before I could start my second type of chemo drug. That bag takes four hours to drip through and then I was given another bag each of magnesium, potassium and saline so you can imagine what time the process finished for me when it didn't get started until about three o'clock in the afternoon!
I still have no complaints though the nurses crept in in the night made sure I was ok, changed my bag to the new one and crept out again.

My third chemo drug is up to me, tablets to take for the three weeks I'll not be in hospital.

At the moment I feel fine, as usual in hospitals I'm a bit warmer than I'd like to be but apart from that I've got no symptoms at all so I'm feeling pretty lucky - let's hope it stays that way but I'm also of the mindset that for this situation, a few months of feeling crappy in return for years of happiness with my amazing boyfriend, family and friends is a trade off I'm more than willing to endure.

Here's to the chemo drugs coursing through my body, I hope they are targeting the tumour and teaching them that they don't really want to live in Hannah's body anymore.

Here's to the nurses here who, as I've said above, are absolutely fantastic.

Here's to modern technology and science for at least allowing me to attempt to fight this.

Here's to my surgeon who, hopefully, in a couple of months will reach inside me and take away what is left of my tumour.

Here's to my friends and family who have shown me more love and support than I ever realised. Especially to friends of my parents, I know they must be feeling useless four hours away, I can't thank you enough for all your support to them, your offers of cleaning and cooking and general well wishes.

Here's to everyone who has donated to my just giving pages - I hope that the money raised can help to fund the research into new cures for cancer and also help to continue the amazing work of the Macmillan nurses.

If this all goes as I'm hoping it will and I make it through this to live to fight another day, none of the above will be forgotten.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It begins

My meeting with my Oncologist, Professor MiracleMaker went really well this week.

I have had my tumour staged at a T2, which I believe is still considered an early stage cancer and my N and M factors are considered 0 which is very good news

From Wikipedia:

T describes the size of the tumour and whether it has invaded nearby tissue
     Tx - Tumour cannot be evaluated
     Tis - Carcinoma in situ
     T0 - No signs of tumour
     T1, T2, T3, T4 - Size and/or extension of the primary tumour

N describes regional lymph nodes that are involved
     Nx - Lymph nodes cannot be evaluated
     N0 - Tumour cells absent from regional lymph nodes
     N1 - Regional lymph node metastasis present OR tumour spread to closest or small number of regional lymph nodes
     N2 - Tumour spread to an extent between N1 and N3
     N3 - Tumour spread to more distant or numerous regional lymph nodes

M describes distant metastasis (the spread of cancer from one body part to another).
     Mx - Distant metastasis cannot be evaluated
     M0 - No distant metastasis
     M1 - Metastasis to distant organs (beyond regional lymph nodes)

So at the moment I'm a T2 N0 M0
Which considering I have a visible (from a scan) tumour in my body I couldn't have hoped for a better outcome - my tumour was probably already too big to be classified as a T1 so the fact that it's 'only' a T2 is great news - I've never been the fastest person in anything I've done sports or otherwise and I'm happy to say my little growth is taking after me in that respect!!
The N0 and M0 results are quite frankly FANTASTIC - normally with my type of cancer it has spread to other parts of the body before it gives people any symptoms so I'm very glad it decided to be a shy little thing and not try to make friends with any other organs.

Next week I am due to have my laparoscopy where my surgeon Mr MeasureTwiceCutOnce will insert a camera into my abdomen to have an actual look at my tumour so that he can gauge what will need to be done when the time comes for my operation. They will also fill my abdomen with water and then bag up said water and test that for rogue cancer cells - I'm still astounded at the level of detail they go to when looking for the cancer - I'm totally confident in their approach and I'm glad they're being thorough.
At first I thought I'd get nervous having to go through all of these tests as each one could bring with it bad news but now I've come to realise that all of these things simply allow me and my team of Professor MiracleMaker and Mr MeasureTwiceCutOnce to arm ourselves with enough ammunition for the fight. The cancer treatment is going to be tough and I'd rather bare it the once and be as sure as possible that they're getting it all out than them storm in, treat the main tumour yet miss a sneaky cancer cell elsewhere.

After my laparoscopy I will get approximately ten days to recover and then I will experience my first Chemotherapy session.
Professor MiracleMaker has decided to go at me with all guns blazing considering my age and (thanks to the last couple of years) level of fitness so I will be undertaking three rounds of chemotherapy each taking three weeks, then I will be given about six weeks off to recover from the chemo and I'll have another scan to see how teeny tiny my tumour now is and then I'll go for my operation with Mr MeasureTwiceCutOnce then I'll have another six weeks off to recover from surgery and I'll go back for three more rounds of chemo to blast my body again to make extra sure that there is no more cancer in my body!!

This is probably going to be the hardest few months of my life and there are going to be highs and lows but breaking it down is helping quite a lot
For example:
I can do ANYTHING three times - I'll have three rounds of chemo - the first time will be scary / exciting as I start my first day at cancer killing school, I'll hopefully make friends with other patients and I hope my chemo drugs make friends with the cancer and, as the rebellious older sibling, convince the tumour to go on a trip of a lifetime by having an 'out of body' experience!!
After that I'll go in for round two three weeks later which, when you think of it in a course of three, is already more than halfway there and then round three will be the last one! Term one in cancer killing school is over already! Time for a wee holiday before packing my bag once again to go back for Term two!

The good things about this is, if I keep to plan and my body stays healthy enough to have the chemo every three weeks then my three rounds will be over before the end of this year and I'll be in my 'six week holiday' during Christmas which means that hopefully I won't be too 'loopy' from the Chemo to actually enjoy Christmas and hopefully the Chemo will have done it's job and shrunk the tumour enough for me to be able to eat slightly more solid foods i.e. attempt an actual Christmas dinner!!
The other even better thing is if my body stays healthy enough to be on schedule, my Chemo - Operation - Chemo journey will have finished three weeks BEFORE my brother's wedding next year!!
I only have one sibling and although we've had our bad times (he's five years older than me so during childhood we always seemed to be in different phases of our lives) he's an amazing big brother and I'm so proud of everything he's done. I was away when he graduated from University so I missed that and a couple of weeks ago I honestly didn't think I'd be around anymore to make his wedding and to have that as a goal and a target will be a light to lead me on in my darker days.
My last chemo session should (all things being well) also fall on the week of my birthday and I can't think of a better present than being given the gift of life!

Anyways - I'm going to stop being so poetic (yup people that's what I call poetic) and leave you to your no doubt wonderful Friday! Have a great weekend everyone - for those in the UK lets hope all this rain stops soon - it's causing too much chaos everywhere!!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cancer

So...
My results have come back and it has been confirmed that I do indeed have Oesophageal Cancer.

I have been for various different scans so far and I'm still waiting for the results of my PET scan which allows the doctors to 'stage' the tumour i.e. see how big it is, how far it has spread (or hasn't spread hopefully) and if any of my lymph nodes are affected.
So far from the results of my CT scan the tumour looks to be quite small, hasn't spread to the outside wall of my oesophagus (less chance of it spreading to my heart and lungs through contact that way) and there were no enlarged lymph nodes so hopefully the PET scan doesn't show anything that the CT scan didn't show!!

I have a meeting with my Oncologist tomorrow where we will discuss my treatment plan and the way forward from here - it's going to be a 'take each day as it comes' period in my life but I'm hoping that in a year's time I'll be starting my road to recovery a better, stronger person than before.

I count myself lucky at the amount of love and support I have felt so far on this journey and there are so many people who go through life not knowing how much you mean to people and how many lives you touch along the way and I'm very privileged to be experiencing this right now. I'll never take it for granted again and apart from this diagnosis I'm a very blessed and lucky woman.