3 Years, 1 month, 15 Days — the time that flew by between my first breast cancer diagnosis — and my second!
The first was on October 14, 2014. The second, November 29 2017.
No, 2017 didn’t end well for us. And tomorrow, six weeks after unexpected but rather urgent hip replacement surgery, I start a 10-day course of radiotherapy.
While the diagnosis of a tumour at the top of my femur followed by major surgery six days later (December 5) put our world into a blurry spin and another rung on our ladder of uncertainty, there was ultimately some good news. Well we took it as good news anyway.
The tumour pathology results showed the same kind of tumour as before – it hadn’t morphed into anything more complex! That meant my oncologist made the decision that a small amount of radiation is all I would need as follow up treatment to the surgery – no chemo! When you’ve had six months of that the first time, I can tell you that being told it wouldn’t be of any great use this time is like hearing you don’t have cancer at all!
The second diagnosis was quite the surreal shock (as I imagine it almost always is)! As was being told that the urgency wasn’t getting rid of the tumour, it was securing my leg so I didn’t fracture my femur and do more damage that needed repair.
Did I fear the cancer would one day return? Of course I did. Was I living in la-la land not completely and realistically acknowledging that it could come back? Maybe!
After a second diagnosis do I feel the same? No.
The fear of yet another diagnosis is now at extreme levels. If this little cell splintered off and found a cosy home at the top of my hip, who is to say other little buggers haven’t gone searching for a home somewhere else in my body – where they may lay dormant for one or 20 years.
Aussie sweetheart Olivia Newton-John, who I have always had enduring affection for, was recently diagnosed for a second time – 25 years since her first diagnosis. Like me, she too thought this time that she just had sciatica and that’s what she was being treated for.
By the way, my affection for ONJ started to foster when I was the ripe old age of 7. My mum gave me one of her albums for my birthday. I still remember the cover. It was like a pastel drawing/painting of the beautiful woman herself. (I have since found the album cover, and the name of it was First Impressions. Songs included a few you’ll start singing in your head as soon as you read the titles – If Not For You, Take Me Home Country Roads and one of my faves, Let Me Be There.
Are you singing yet?
Now, our second breast cancer diagnosis mirrors each other and during a television interview recently, the survivor and driving force behind the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre, she said she thought she had sciatic and that all she wanted to do now was get back on the tennis court – my ultimate ambition!
But I digress.
Around June last year I went for a run with my eight-year-old who wanted to do some cross country training ahead of his school carnival. The next day pain shot right up my left leg and into my hip and lower back.
The pain was persistent, so off to my chiropractor I went. For months we worked on what we thought was the problem (and those months included me just hoping and wishing wilfully that this would all just go away).
It didn’t. So my Chiro sent me to the physio for treatment, including dry needling to get the blood flowing through my muscles. Four weeks later and the dogged pain was still there. So we both agreed this wasn’t working and that the next step was to go to the GP and ask for a referral for scans of my back and hip.
The scans were supposed to show damage to my sciatic nerve that I dared to dream could be fixed with a jab of cortisone or at the very worse, a simple surgery.
The GP called me in a few days later. She looked at me and said “I’m so sorry,”
What, sorry, for what!
Oh my God, no. Please, no.
My babies. How was I going to tell them? What happens to people when cancer comes back? It can only be worse right? But this is in my hip? Where else must it be?
Four hours later I was in my oncologist’s office. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
Sorry, why? Was there nothing she could do?
I forgot who I was talking to. I forgot this was Professor Arlene Chan. The woman, the legend who leads the clinical trials unit at Breast Cancer Research Centre-WA. She got me through this once before and she’s ready to do it again!
“It’s ok,” she said. “I have a plan!” She always has a plan!!!
That plan started with securing my leg through the work of orthopaedic surgeon Dr Sam Young. Perhaps he would just ‘pin’ it. Perhaps not.
A full hip replacement was the decision and in doing so, he would have a fair crack at removing the tumour — along with healthy bone and muscle (including my hip flexor) that were impacted by it.
The surgery was two days after we celebrated our eldest Abbey’s 13th birthday. Once again, the impact of all of this on the kids is emotional, draining and testing.
Five days after surgery, and after graduating from my walking frame to crutches, I was home with my bionic hip and leg.
I couldn’t do much (except sit on the couch watching the cricket while my hubby vacuumed and I recovered) but I was well enough to enjoy Christmas with the family before heading to Seabird to spend time with some wonderful friends.
Now, I’ll go and set my alarm so I get to hospital in time for my first of 10 radiotherapy appointments this time around.
In just over two weeks I’ll be back at work in my new job at St Mary’s Anglican Girls’ School.
I can’t wait to start my new “normal” life.