Tag Archives: pregnancy

What happened next

I had a termination.

I had a termination to give myself the best chance of overcoming cancer, for the sake of my family. But it was one of the hardest, most distressing and painful decisions that I have ever had to make.

It has brought back many, many difficult emotions and memories of the death of my son nine years ago. This is another, extraordinarily painful, loss. The pain may not last as long this time, but it is as excruciating.

I have been grief-stricken, and tormented by guilt and “what ifs” about the decision I took, even though the sane and rational part of me knows I didn’t have much of a choice and that I made it for sound reasons.  

Some people have said it was a brave and selfless thing to do; right now it doesn’t seem like that.

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A second opinion

Today is second opinion day. Not that I’ve had a full first opinion yet: despite the fact that the hospital is aware of my pregnancy and that I may need to take some hard decisions sooner rather than later they seem incapable of speeding things up. Having been told I could probably get some interim results from my surgery and lymph node biopsy at the end of last week, no histopathology appeared to have been done at all when I called. I was distraught.

It seems to me that the hospital regards my pregnancy as a huge inconvenience – it simply doesn’t fit into their way of seeing/doing/treating things. But surely this can’t be the first time they’ve encountered a pregnant women with breast cancer (they are a specialist BC unit after all)? I know it’s rare but it’s not unheard of – in fact I’ve seen some stats that suggest BC occurs in one in every 3,000 pregnancies (though that seems a bit high to me).

Anyway, thanks to my wonderful GP I have an appointment later today with an extremely well-regarded consultant at another hospital. If all goes well, I shall transfer my treatment to Hospital B. It may sound melodramatic, but frankly I don’t feel particularly safe at Hospital A – I’ve lost all confidence in them at any rate.

It feels like it’s been a battle from the start, and I don’t have the energy for it. I could rant for hours but there’s no point. (I’ve also complained but that doesn’t seem to have done much good either.)

Suffice it to say that things like the ward sister assuming I’d come in for ear, nose and throat surgery rather than breast cancer surgery, and one of the nurses looking like a frightened rabbit when I told her I was pregnant (“And you’re having a general anaesthetic?! No one told us!”), have not helped.

There was also an incident where, an hour after I’d received my initial diagnosis and was sitting in the waiting room I was approached by a doctor who leaned over, thrust a piece of paper into my hand and mumbled something that seemed to finish with the words “…in the event of your death – God forbid – you can help others.” It appeared she was trying to recruit me for a clinical study. When I complained about her inappropriate and insensitive approach she maintained that she had said “blood clot”, not “death”. Maybe so, but if she’d bothered to sit down and explain things properly, or even better done it in a different place and at a different time, the situation wouldn’t have arisen in the first place.

Why "Everything is going to be alright"

Everything is going to be alright, Martin Creed
Everything is going to be alright, Martin Creed, Clapton Portico, 1999

 Years ago this installation by Martin Creed appeared on the front of the former orphan asylum in Clapton, east London. I love the simplicity of the message, and it has never failed to reassure or cheer me up. I decided to call this blog Everything’s going to be all right in the hope that it will be.

On some level Creed is probably being ironic of course, but I’m going to stick with the un-ironic interpretation.

Everything is going to be alright has since appeared in galleries worldwide, including Tate Britain, the Palazzo dell’Arengario, Milan and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit.

Fantastic, however you choose to read it.

On being a bitch to live with

I think I’ve done fairly well at being reasonable since the weekend. I have shouted at the children only as much as I normally would (less, probably, as I’ve been tucked up in bed for much of the time); I’ve only behaved childishly once (phone call to my mum and I am going to apologise).

It’s a huge relief not to feel as angry as I did a week or so ago (though I’m not stupid enough to think I won’t feel the same way again over the coming months). It’s a very long time since I have experienced such an overwhelming surge of destructive energy, the desire to smash and hurt (fortunately not literally).

I’m sure I was a nightmare to live with for a good few days: periods of shouting and stomping around the house screaming about the utter unfairness of it all alternating with hours of deep depression when I refused to speak to anyone, or at least to say anything reasonable or positive. All completely understandable (and I daresay normal) responses, but horrible all the same. I’ve been there before and I don’t like it. I don’t want to be that wretched, unhinged woman.

I feel isolated too. It’s like being on the opposite side of the road to everyone else and not being able to cross back. My experience is suddenly different to all of theirs, and nothing will ever be the same again. I’ve been there before too and I hate it.

I just want things to be normal – I don’t want to have to deal with breast cancer and pregnancy at the same time, to have to contemplate awful decisions, to think about my own mortality. I just want to get on with my life.

Knackered

So today I am trying to take it easy. I’m sore, part of my arm’s numb, I’m pissed off and unbelievably knackered. I assume the latter is partly the after-effects of surgery and general anaesthesia, and partly being ten weeks pregnant.

On Friday I had a wide area excision – an operation to remove a small tumour  and some surrounding tissue. I also had some lymph nodes samples taken to see whether the cancer has spread. I cannot believe it has, but then I still can’t really believe I had (have?) it in the first place. In theory, I might not get my results for another ten days, which seems a hideously long time to wait and, from the pregnancy point of view, agonising.

I have decided not to make any decisions about this pregnancy until I get the results. The odds are massively stacked against it: my age (mid-forties); tumour type (apparently if it’s oestrogen receptor positive continuing with a pregnancy would probably be bonkers); possible follow-up treatment required (radiotherapy or chemo – neither great in pregnancy); the fact that I hadn’t planned to have any more children. Oh, and the fact that this baby has a one in four chance of having a rare and fatal genetic condition (we will need an amnio or CVS to tell).

But, perhaps stupidly, or for other reasons I can’t or don’t want to explain, I don’t feel able to give up on it just yet. I do not want to make a decision that I might subsequently regret without knowing all the facts. And the risks of course.  But the clock is ticking – I cannot leave it too long to make that decision.

A bit of a headf***

Nine days ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer (an apparently small, early stage tumour, but cancer all the same); three days earlier I discovered I was pregnant.

Both were completely unexpected. For the past six weeks I’d been told by every medical professional I’d seen that the small cyst they had found in my breast was nothing to be concerned about, and indeed very common in women in their forties.

In fact, the radiologist I was referred to for a second biopsy was extremely reluctant to do it at all. “I don’t know why you’ve been referred,” she said. Had she read my notes she’d have seen that an earlier, needle biopsy had found a few potentially dodgy cells, and that was why a bigger sample had been requested.

When you’re lying semi-naked on an examination table the last thing you feel like doing is insisting that someone sticks quite a large needle in your already sore breast and takes out more bits of you (even if it is under a local anaesthetic). To have to ask someone to do it three times before they assent is a bloody nightmare.

Good thing I did though, because a week later I had a call from the specialist nurse saying that the dodgy cells were looking dodgier (still nothing to worry about though), and I needed a third biopsy, this time a vacuum assisted one. I kept thinking of a Dyson.

I was furious. I felt completely misled by the doctor who had (eventually) done the second biopsy, and appalled at the thought at what could have happened if I had been less bolshy that afternoon.

One of the things that has struck me most over the past few weeks is the importance of communicating effectively with people when you are telling them that they potentially have a serious condition (no surprise there), and how completely rubbish some of the medical professionals I have come into contact with are at it.

Anyway, the vacuum biopsy was not as awful as it might sound, and I felt pretty confident that that would be it. I thought I would try and forget about it until my appt with the consultant ten days later.

It was then I realised I hadn’t had a period for a while. I put it down to the stress of the past month and resolved to do a pregnancy test in the extremely unlikely event that my period didn’t start in the next few days. It didn’t, so I dashed to Boots at lunchtime next day to buy a test.

I did the test in the loos at work. It was positive and I couldn’t believe it. Three days later I went for the results of my biopsy. I had a small but malignant tumour and they wanted to remove whatever the vacuum biopsy hadn’t already sucked out.