Sunday, 31 October 2010

Not All About Cancer

I have had a delightful Sunday afternoon throwing 20kg granite rocks across a sheet of ice. When I wasn't throwing them I was sweeping away far more vigorously than I would wield a broom at home (or anywhere else, for that matter)! No comments about broomsticks and todays date, please!

Curling is something that I have wanted to do since my school days but never quite got around to; and easy to put off because there are so few places in England where you can do it. And that is where cancer makes a brief appearance as I'm now much less likely to put off something I really want to do. So back in March I decided that my shoulder was sufficiently improved after the ravages wrought by radiotherapy and I was sufficiently motivated for me to put it off no longer, and I went along to a beginners evening organised by the South of England Curling Club.

I had a great time but it was only a taster and, of course, pretty much the end of the season by then and so I have had to wait until now to have a proper go. This afternoon the club held a mini bonspiel (curling competition) and said it would incorporate the beginners into teams with more experienced curlers. It turned out that there was only one beginner - so that rather hampered my team!

I think that one of the things that has always attracted me to curling has been the physics of it; stones curling, possibly hitting each other and then either stopping or moving off (m1v1 + m2v2 ... and all that). Now if physics was all there was to it I might be reasonably successful, but it also requires a sense of balance and a degree of hand to eye co-ordination, and unfortunately I'm somewhat lacking in both these areas. So if I got the weight right, I had problems with the direction or getting the curl correct.  And when I got it to curl properly I threw light - or occasionally heavy.  By the end of the afternoon I'd just about got the hang of it, but now I need to learn how to do a nice elegant sliding delivery. I'm no Rhona Martin!  Still, it was quite a compliment when one of the others said to me "your delivery may be far from elegant but that was a very playable stone and the weight was just right".

Fortunately, everyone is very friendly, encouraging and keen to help a beginner. I have rather bruised knees (I tend to topple over as I let go the stone!), but can't wait for the next time. 

Today was definitely a Good Day.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

'Tis the Season

Once you are through the acute phase of treatment, appointments tend to be like buses - and I'm now in my appointments season.

Oncologist, UKFOCSS blood test and GP (new prescription) are down, and genetic counsellor, bone density scan, mammogram and surgeon are all to come between now and the beginning of December. And, of course, they are clustered round what is also anniversary season - being told it was probably cancer, confirmed diagnosis, surgery, pathology results.

Cancer treatment and early years follow-up at times can feel like a full time job; which is a bit of a problem when you have one already. It must be even worse for those who are working single parents.

In some ways it was easier to fit work and daily radiotherapy together than work and some of the follow-up. With radiotherapy, thanks to the very helpful staff at Mount Vernon, I managed to get most of my appointments at the end of the day.  That way I could go to work and then at about 3.4pm nip down the M1 and round the M25.  Of course, the journey home afterwards wasn't much fun and usually I just fell into bed once I got there.  But at least it was possible.  With a scan timed for about mid-day at a hospital 30 miles in the opposite direction from the office, work is a bit more tricky.  Then there are all the other things in life that I want time to do; such as sitting in the British Library getting excited about people who lived 500 years ago!

I am therefore very grateful that I work for a supportive organisation, with trustees who understand the problems of life, work and medical appointments. Hopefully, the appointments will thin out a bit more in the next couple of years.  In the meantime I will continue to juggle work, play and appointments thanks to my "page a day" diary.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Onwards and Upwards!

Last week I saw my oncologist for my regular 6 monthly check-up.  He was very encouraging, smiley and pleased with my progress and the way I'm healing. I, however, had a serious issue to raise.

I am in a screening study for ovarian cancer and my recent scan showed endometrial thickening, typical of that caused by tamoxifen (ovaries were fine, I'm pleased to say!). Now I haven't had any worrying symptoms but tamoxifen carries an increased risk of endometrial cancer and knowing that is having a thickening effect made me rather keen to switch to another drug.  Initially my oncologist wasn't all that keen on the idea of switching and pointed out that I only knew because of the study scan.  My line was that I do know about it, can't un-know and didn't want continue with tamoxifen!  Because I'm now clearly post-menopausal I can take an aromatase inhibitor instead.  I persisted and after a discussion he agreed to the switch with immediate effect.  So I'm now taking exemestane (Aromasin).

All drugs have side effects and exemestane is no exception.  It may cause more hot flushes and sweats and is likely to cause more joint pain and stiffness, but the most serious side effect is the potential to cause a loss of bone density.  For this reason I will now have a bone density scan to establish a baseline.

It is early days with the new drug, but so far so good.  I'm getting headaches and nausea but this is likely to settle down quite quickly. I had been taking a low dose of glucosamine and chondroitin and have now increased that in the hopes of dealing with increased stiffness.  This feels a very positive switch for me and I am much happier for having made it.  Study results for switching to exemestane are good, marginally better than for just tamoxifen in fact. So it was a good appointment and I left feeling both encouraged and that I had been listened to and my concerns taken seriously.

I will see my oncologist again in 6 months (already have the appointment), but if all is going well he will then discharge me and I will "just" have an annual check-up with my surgeon following the yearly mammogram.  An important landmark in the Land of New Normal.