Breast cancer and chemo. There’s something you don’t want to be thinking about. Ever. But Flinger, Cally Nurse had to recently.
We thought it might help others to hear Cally’s experience, told in her words:
“Chemo is not for me I’m afraid,” I said to Mr Harris, the breast surgeon who had last week removed my left breast and a few lymph nodes. “There’s no cancer in the lymph nodes so it probably hasn’t spread so I’m not having chemo. I’m just not.”
Mr Harris struggles with eye contact but he managed to looked at me and said: “It is your choice, of course. Would you like to discuss it with Mrs Stewart, the chemotherapy doctor, next week?”
Mrs Stewart was running late. I studied the women waiting with me. Pale-skinned, lashless and wearing a variety of scarves, turbans and hats, they were all ages and did not look well. I did not fit in.
Mrs Stewart was a small dark haired woman with muscly calves. She obviously worked out and her maroon suit was a neat fit. Her long thin nose and red lips reminded me of Morticia from the Addams family.
“This is the closest to a cure we have. Survival rates and recovery have improved a great deal over the past 15-20 years,” she said.
As I’d requested, she keyed my age and the details of the cancer into a computer programme. She pressed print and it churned out two pages of graphs and percentages showing the likely recurrence with treatment and without treatment. She handed it to me.
“Bear in mind that this is based on the general population so it is only a guide,” she said.
I looked at it. Having chemotherapy and the super-drug, Herceptin, would increase my chances of surviving another 10 years by 15%. Whooppeedoo.
“I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to get a second opinion,” I said.
I met two breast cancer experts in Germany. I spoke to many women who had been through the same. I gritted my teeth and agreed to have the recommended six doses of chemotherapy.
Now I am emerging from chemo country. Apples no longer taste of metal, cravings for marmite and crisps have gone, hair is growing on top of my head like a thick mat of white and grey whorls. I can almost flutter my eyelashes.
I have produced a booklet of advice for friends, family, colleagues and for people on chemo: Quick Fixes While on Chemo. It’s on sale on ebay and profits are for the Maggie’s Centre, a warm and wonderful space that I used and continue to use regularly.