Thursday, 25 November 2010

Now that's scary!

I had my first appointment with the oncologist today and came away feeling shell-shocked because it is so stark hearing your life defined in terms of ‘survival rates.’ I was shown a graph which outlined the probability of women fitting my statistical profile surviving 10 years based on various courses of treatment and everything was discussed in terms of ‘your best survival rate.’ The statistics showed that if I opted for no treatment at all there was a 55% chance that I would die of cancer within 10 years and the figures for having just one type of treatment were also very poor. The computer model predicted that if I have chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment my 10 year + survival rate is 32%. Admittedly the doctor was keen to tell me that this is considered a very positive figure as she sees many patients who are looking at single figure percentages, but to see a prediction that on average just 1 in 3 women in my situation survive 10 years or more was frightening to say the very least. It certainly puts the whole thing into a very sharp focus and really brings home the fact that one is never really ‘cured’ of certain types of cancer.

One of the main reasons for the figures is the fact that I have lymph node involvement and apparently even a low number of infected nodes still ramps up the danger of the cancer having escaped to take up home in other parts of the body. I will have to have a CT scan before I start treatment just to be sure that I have nothing elsewhere to worry about, then in about 3 weeks time I will have my first cycle of chemo. I will be having 8 cycles so that I can have smaller doses because of my underlying health condition. AC (Doxorubicin & Cyclophosphamide) first followed by Docetaxel and when that’s over I’ll be having radiotherapy for several weeks. I turned out to be HER2 negative so there’s no benefit in my having a course of Herceptin but I will be able to have the hormone therapy.

I am feeling so overwhelmed by it all today. It’s awful to contemplate the possibility of such a shortened lifespan, even though of course logic tells me that there is no reason at all why I shouldn’t be in the 32% of women who survive more than 10 years, but it just seems so bleak when you see it as a set of statistics. At least having all the treatments does considerably stack the odds in my favour. As the oncologist said; the choice was a ‘no brainer.’ Interestingly, I was chatting to one of the Breast Care Nurses earlier on (it looks like I might be developing a seroma on my wound) and she was wondering whether the oncologist would consider the risk of chemotherapy relating to my general health might outweigh the possible benefits and she’s very keen to hear what the decision was.

Meanwhile I now have to brace myself for the endurance event that is chemo. I plan on having a substantial (but not radical) hair cut shortly and will be sorting out a wig. I’ve been advised that I will qualify for one wig on the NHS and that an advisor will visit me at home to discuss and fit something suitable. I am also going to buy a second one, probably something a little more glamorous for dressing up occasions. Plus of course I’ll need to invest in scarves and hats as I’ll be without any hair at all when it’s coldest. The oncologist was very up front in telling me that all her patients following the same regimen lose their hair early on and I’m glad she was honest enough to tell me that as it avoids any false hopes. 

I really just don’t know how I’m going to deal with it all. That said I did end up going out today without my prosthesis on because it was just too painful to wear even the softest post-op bra and a week ago there is no way on earth I would have been prepared to do that. I did have lots of layers on though, so the fact that I was mono-boobed probably wasn’t that obvious to the casual observer!

Hey Ho! So here’s looking forward to such a jolly Christmas!


  1. I was wondering if you were really wearing a bra already. The post opt camisole was my friend for a long time. I only wear my prosthetic half the time. I don't see the need just to run to the post office. If anybody dare say anything- they are looking way too close!

  2. Actually yesterday was the first day I wore a bra with a permanent prosthesis for a whole day and I was very sore by the end of it. I'll be saving that for special occasions for the time being. Camisoles have been an absolute lifesaver and I pretty much live in them at the moment. I have a couple of very soft post-op, front-fastening bras which are comfy to wear and if I'm going out that's what I wear with a soft prosthesis so that I look balanced. Whilst at home I just stick with the camisoles.