Category Archives: women’s health

The lovely Mr Friedman

  Dean Friedman keeps popping into my head. Or rather the slightly nasal voice of Mr Friedman singing his only UK hit, Lucky Stars, in 1978.  

There’s a line in it that starts Well how am I supposed to feel…? which seems quite pertinent as I’m not sure how I am supposed to feel right now. On Tuesday I finished 15 daily sessions of radiotherapy, and I feel all sorts of things.  

I’m hugely relieved that the radiotherapy is over, as it means I’m one step closer to life returning to normal (even if I’m not sure quite what that is ). But I also feel other emotions that I seem to have little control over, and which mean I can go from reasonably ok one minute to absolutely dreadful the next. 

In no particular order these include: guilt (about anything and everything really, but particularly because I terminated my pregnancy as a result of the cancer diagnosis, and because I’m not currently earning an income – I am however still running a home and looking after a family); anger; overwhelming sadness; disbelief that all this has happened to me; a childish feeling of being incredibly hard done by; and, let’s be honest, envy – why do some people seem to go through life unscathed while others have far more than their fair share to deal with? 

Sometimes I am also utterly bored by the whole thing: I’d love to be able to shut off and pretend none of the last few months have happened. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem possible. 

I know from experience that in time these feelings will pass and some sort of normal life will resume. In the meantime I suppose I could distract myself by working my way through the whole of Mr Friedman’s back catalogue. Which might be no bad thing.


Counting my blessings and other cliches

Today I am two-thirds of the way through radiotherapy.

It’s a slightly strange experience. Not painful, but uncomfortable: lying with your arm at a bit of an odd angle for 15 mins or so pulls on muscles that are already sore from surgery and general prodding and poking, so afterwards everything feels slightly stretched.

The inside of my arm and a part of my breast are numb from the surgery. The rest of my breast is tender, and itches like mad from the “sunburn” the high-energy radiotherapy rays causes. You are supposed to use aqueous cream to help with this but I have to admit I am not very good at it: at first I didn’t want to touch my breast because it was sore. But if I’m honest it was also because I’ve felt angry with my body for letting me down (ridiculous I know) and have not wanted to look at, or look after, that part of it.

I am still struggling a bit with what my breast now looks like. I’ve been fortunate in needing a lumpectomy (a wide local excision to give it its proper name), rather than a mastectomy, which means that literally a biggish ‘lump’ of tumour and surrounding tissue has been removed.

I have three scars: a small crescent-shaped tumour biopsy scar to the right of my nipple; a 3cm scar near my armpit from the lymph node biopsy and a 2cm scar that curves around the top my nipple where the tumour was cut out.

I also have a sizeable dent (the surgeons call it a dimple) where the tissue’s been removed.

It does not look terrible – a bit angry and inflamed at present, but that will go. Topless modelling is probably out but I think I can live with that. I am very fortunate: I did not have to have chemotherapy and my prognosis is good.

There have been many days when I have not felt fortunate (and rightly so: discovering on the ninth anniversary of your son’s death that you are pregnant, finding out three days later you have cancer, and then having a termination are very difficult to cope with, and it is hard not to feel at times that fate has it in for you). But I do feel fortunate today.

I feel fortunate because the cancer was discovered early (almost by chance) and was therefore very treatable. I am fortunate that I live somewhere with access to fantastic medical care and treatment that isn’t dependent on whether you can afford it.

I feel fortunate to have family and friends who have looked after and supported me even when I have been (ok – still am) a complete nightmare to be around.

I’m fortunate because today I got to sit in a beautiful London square in the autumn sunshine, and at that moment it seemed quite enough just to be there, and much more than some people ever have.

The butterfly tattoo

 Until a few days ago I had no idea that when you have radiotherapy you get a tattoo. In my case, two tiny pinpricks that, charmingly, look like largish blackheads. They are there to help ensure the radiation is delivered in exactly the right place every time. 

Apparently you can get them zapped with a laser when treatment is finished, though my oncologist (not ominously I hope), told me they are a useful reference point “in case anything else is needed in the future”. 

I read about someone who turned hers into a tattoo of a butterfly, which sounded rather lovely. Butterflies symbolise change, a new life after a period of transformation. In Mandarin Chinese the word for butterfly is “hu-tieh”. “Tieh” means “70 years”, so butterflies have become a symbol for a long life. 

Unfortunately the location of my marks would make a butterfly tattoo look a bit ridiculous I think. But perhaps I’ll just keep my little pinpricks as an indelible reminder of the past few months and an omen for the future.