My first diagnosis and treatment – 2014/15

In April 2014, at the age of 47 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I had a scar on my breast that wasn’t healing and I finally decided to visit the doctor.  I was examined but the doctor didn’t feel any lumps (nor did I). However, as a routine procedure, I was referred to the breast clinic.

Within 3 weeks  I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
‘Multifocal, grade 3, invasive ductal carcinoma, ER negative, PR negative, HER-2 positive (3+), stage 3 (spread to the neighbouring lymph nodes)’

Hearing for the first time ‘You have cancer’ was a shock.  However, it didn’t change my life.  At least not this time around.

I am a very pragmatic person and I basically just got on with things.  I took 2 weeks off to have surgery, but otherwise never stopped working.  Not even during chemo.  Went on holidays with the family in the summer, made packed lunches and did the school runs, went out with friends for drinks and dinner and I went for the cancer treatments as scheduled.

My life and having cancer were 2 separate things. I didn’t avoid talking about my cancer but it wasn’t something that came up very often.

Treatment

  • Surgery
    April 2014
    Right mastectomy and removal of the lymph nodes from my right arm The surgery itself took a few hours, mostly because of the removal of the lymph nodes. Afterwards I had two drain pipes to drain the excess fluid. I stayed in the hospital for over a week, until the pipes were removed.Physically I handled the mastectomy fine.  From an emotional point of view, it has effected me quite a bit.  But over time I have adapted.
  • Chemotherapy
    May-November 2014
    – FEC x 2 (3 weekly)
    – Taxotere x 1 (3 weekly)
    – Taxol x 6 (weekly)
    – Taxotere x 1 (3 weekly)Chemotherapy is where cytotoxic drugs are administered intravenously. This is done at the Oncology ward by specialist nurses. Cytotoxic means it is toxic to the cells. It affects cancer cells as well as normal, healthy cells. However the healthy cells are able to repair themselves whereas the cancer cells (at least some of the time) die.  Chemo drugs are essentially poison and a long list of side effects (mild to severe depending on your luck :)).For me chemotherapy was tough to say the least.  The original plan was 3 rounds of FEC followed by 3 rounds of Taxotere, both administered once every 3 weeks.

    However it didn’t quite work out like that.

    FEC consists of 3 drugs (fluorouracil, epirubicin and cyclophosphamide) and I had an allergic reaction to the epirubicin. Which meant the treatment had to stop after the second round.  As a result of the side effects I have lost my hair (including eyebrows and eyelashes) and I was vomiting or feeling nauseous most of the time.

    The next drug on list was Taxotere.  I didn’t have a reaction, but the side effects were so bad (pain, swelling, loss of feeling of the end of the fingers and toes, fatigue, at times unable to sit up, loss of appetite) that I asked for an alternative.

    I then had Taxol, which was great as I only had very mild side effects. However, I had an allergic reaction again 😦  This meant that I needed to be given antihistamine (intravenously) before the treatment started. This made me drowsy and put me in a strange stance where I wasn’t quite awake but wasn’t quite asleep either.   After the 6th dose I couldn’t take it anymore and asked to go back on the Taxotere despite of all its side effects.

  • Radiotherapy
    October/November 2014
    10 sessions (5 minute each, over a 2 week period)

    Radiotherapy is a localised treatment using high-energy x-rays. I had to lie down on a bed (in the same position each time) and the x-ray was targeted in the right hand side chest wall.  It was painless with no side effects
  • Targeted therapy
    November 2014 – November 2015
    Tratuzumab (Herceptin) (once every 3 weeks)“Trastuzumab is one of a group of cancer drugs called monoclonal anitbodies. Monoclonal antibodies are sometimes called targeted therapies because they work by ‘targeting’ specific proteins (receptors) on the surface of cells.

    Some cancers have too much of a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) on the surface of their cells. These are called HER2-positive cancers. The extra HER2 receptors stimulate the cancer cells to divide and grow. Trastuzumab locks on to the HER2 protein and blocks the receptor. This stops the cells from dividing and growing.” [McMillan.org.uk]

    I had a Herceptin injection once every 3 weeks for a year.  Some side effects but not too bad.  Mostly sore muscles.

 

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