It was my annual check up and mammogram results yesterday, marking 6 years since diagnosis and the start of treatment. All is well and, in contrast to last year, it was a good appointment all round.
I updated with my decision, taken in postal consultation with my oncologist and personal discussion with my GP but which hadn't made it to my notes, to continue with exemestane for another 2 years and then to review in the light of any new data whether to go for a further 3 years more. Dr P agreed that in the light of what we do and don't know, my actual diagnosis and personal situation, this was the sensible decision.
We also discussed future follow up and how I'd felt about it this time last year. My unit is unusual (as I mentioned a year ago) in that it has 10 year follow up. The UK standard has been 5 years of follow up visits and annual mammograms and it is now moving to 1 or 2 years of visits followed by open access but with annual mammograms for 5 years before (re)joining the national screening programme. While there is some evidence in favour of 10 years of annual or bi-annual mammograms, the evidence suggests that in most cases follow up visits after the initial post-treatment phase have little or no value in detecting recurrence. Some people may find them reassuring and others find them stressful. Personally I can't find them reassuring while knowing that they don't have much value, but I have to say that this time I enjoyed the chat! What is more important, we agreed, is that I am alert for anything worrying that I should have investigated and that I get in touch with the clinic if I have any of these symptoms.
We discussed that while continuing on the medication, there could be some value in follow up visits, but the excellent Dr P agreed that I'm likely to know of any research results as soon as (if not before) they do, and certainly before the NHS has formulated its response to those results! On that basis, he is leaving it to me to decide whether or not I feel that a visit next December is a good use of my time, while he urged me to continue with the mammograms, but has signed me up for 8th December 2015.
This appointment has done something to restore my confidence in the unit. My surgeon is good, but last year I found it unsettling that the unit as a whole appeared not to know and follow the emerging new good practice of at least having the discussion. Dr P was willing to discuss that at the moment we don't yet have the evidence and that our unit is (for better or for worse) not in line with the usual practice. More importantly he showed respect for me and my time (not something the NHS is particularly good at) and was prepared to engage fully with a shared decision-making process. It helped that we established at the outset that we both had an interest in watching how the research unfolds and from there we could move forward with mutual respect. Unfortunately for me, he will, of course, be gone by 8th December 2015.
Returning to the subject of last time - I went to this appointment On My Own! I had my questions prepared (including notes of what I would want to know if things hadn't been so good). What extra value would having someone else present have added? Absolutely none. They could only have got in the way of the one-to-one discussion. And had results not been so good, I would have had to consider someone else's reaction when I needed to focus my attention on what I needed to know.
As it is, I can now focus my attention on preparations for Christmas and move forward into my personal Year 7, while continuing my engagement with the wider cancer research agenda and, in particular, with patient engagement with that agenda.