My Journey through my breast cancer treatment and out the other side

Hello to all who have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer and are awaiting their surgery and treament.
I thought that it is now time to share with you my email updates that I sent to family, friends and colleagues following my diagnosis of breast cancer in April 2011, and my subsequent mastectormy, chemo and rads treatment in the hope that it will help you have an insight into one woman’s journey through her treatment. Since my last email I have had my implant replaced in January 2013 and my daughter gave birth to our first grandson in December 2012. It is now 2 years since I first disovered my lump and I am now out the other side and life is soooo sweet.
Here follows my email updates that I sent out over the course of a year following my initial diagnosis and mastectormy in April 2011. Sorry it is so long, but you have a year to catch up on and I hope that it may give you some idea of one woman’s journey through her breast cancer treatment.
I have made it out the other side and hope that you will too. I also kept a journal throughout my ‘Journey’ in which I documented not just my treatment, but anything else that I wanted to along the way. I found it a big help as I could refer back to it as I progressed along the way.

UpDate – emailed 28 May 2011
Hi
Sorry for the communal email but at least everyone gets an update without missing anyone (I hope!)
Still waiting for the oncologists to have a definitive date for when to start my chemo as they are still waiting for final results which will determine whether I have ‘Cocktail A’ or ‘Cocktail B’ treatment. I know that they are wanting to give the best possible treatment for ‘Me’, but I just wish that they would get a move on - the sooner I start the sooner I will finish, not that I am really looking forward to it though. Just feel that I am a bit ‘in limbo’ now when up until my op everything else was ‘all systems go’. I have had my hair cut very short in the meantime– absolutely hate it, but I thought that it would be less traumatic to find should it start falling out on my pillow, although by the time I start the chemo it will probably be long and half-way down my back!!!
Anyway, an appointment arrived this morning for my CT scan on Wednesday 8<sup>th</sup> of June which seems to warrant being at the hospital for hours, but it is all part of determining my chemo treatment so I know that it won’t start until after the results from this I guess. At least I know that I haven’t been forgotten as I am beginning to wonder if I have become a regular item on the agenda at the weekly Wednesday meetings when patients and their treatment are discussed.
I have an appointment with my GP on Tuesday to discuss how things are going too, so at least I seem to be back on the NHS ‘merry-go-round’.
Do keep your messages coming in as it is lovely to hear how you are doing.
Love to you all
Maralyn xxx

Full Steam Ahead – emailed 2 June 2011
Another communal email to keep you up-to-date with my situation.
I have already told you that I have a CT scan this Wednesday 8<sup>th</sup> of June, and I had a phone call today to say that I have my 1<sup>st</sup> appointment with my oncologist this coming Monday 6<sup>th</sup> of June so things are on the move again with a vengeance! Not that I am looking forward to the chemo, but, as I have said, the sooner we can start then the sooner we can finish, so I should hopefully know more about when once I have had my appointment on Monday.
If anyone is willing to take my place please let me know ASAP!!!
Maralyn xxx

Chemo 1 - 1<sup>st</sup> Chemo Session In The Bag – emailed 20 June 2011
Hi
Sorry in the delay for letting you know how I am getting on now that my 1<sup>st</sup> chemo session is now in the bag. I know that some of you have heard from me since, so apologies if you have already heard this but at least everyone is getting the same version of events, even if a bit later than others!
Anyway, the results of the CT scan were all clear which is a BIG relief as you can’t help but worry. 1<sup>st</sup> chemo is now in the bag and I now sit here wondering which side-effects I’ll get - there I go worrying again !!! Feel a bit like the morning after the night before, but without the wine!!! Not sleeping very well which doesn’t help with the ‘heavy head’, but at least I’m not at work at the mo, or looking after young children which is plus as I can just mooch about if that’s all I feel like doing.
I’m still managing to function reasonably ‘normally’ and that includes doing the shopping, going with Peter and Lou last night for a Father’s Day meal at Strada in Bury, lunch with old friends last Sunday lunchtime at the Angel, Larling, and to Ravenswood Hotel for a function on Friday evening so in fact that’s an even better social life than normal!!! Let’s hope that things continue in this vein and I’m sure I’ll survive. No chance of me becoming anorexic just yet either as my appetite has returned with a vengeance!!! I started taking my precautionary antibiotics today to guard me against infections whilst my immune system gets knocked for 6, and I have a MUGA scan this Wednesday which checks that the chemo doesn’t affect the pumping action of the heart. I also had a follow-up phone call last Friday morning from the chemo nurse to see how I am getting on so everything is being monitored and checked up on which is brilliant. The support network that is offered can’t be faulted at all.
Today is 9 weeks since my op which I find amazing as it seems to have flown by, and that would be half-way through my chemotherapy, so although I don’t want to wish my life away I hope that the weeks ahead seem to vanish just as quick and I emerge from all this very soon, and get back to my normal humdrum boring life!
In the meantime I’ll try and continue taking my ‘medicine’ with a smile knowing that it’s doing me good!
Love to you all
Maralyn xxx

Chemo 2 - Curiouser & Curiouser – emailed 12 July 2011
Well, here I am, one week on from Chemo session number 2, and amazingly now 12 weeks from my op – tempus fugit and all that. So a third of my way through the number of chemo sessions and just one more session before I have a change of drugs in my cocktail – I wonder if the next lot will have an umbrella and a cherry on the top!!!
How am I doing? Well, I thought that I came out of this last one better than the 1<sup>st</sup> – until it got till about 9pm when I’m afraid I ended up with my head down the loo. Mind you, I did feel better for trying to rid myself of the ‘chemo nasties’. Since then the head feels heavier and I think that I am now on a planet further away than the one I was on after the 1<sup>st</sup> session so perhaps by the end of all this I will get to meet the ‘Man-on the-Moon’!!! I seem to have aching arms too and will check this out with my chemo-nurse. Trouble is all the normal niggles that you would normally not notice now make you sit up and wonder ‘is this ok?’ I also think that the 1<sup>st</sup> week following chemo seems to be a ‘lost week’ as I seem to feel ‘spaced-out’ most of the time, and even reading a book or newspaper demands more concentration than it normally does, and I seem to possess.
I’m glad that I am going through this during the summer though as the sun shining and the long evenings make things seem brighter, although I have to watch the effects of the sun as the chemo makes you more susceptible to burning which is a bit of downer for me as I like to sit in the sun usually. The muggy weather though doesn’t do the aching head a lot of favours either, but mustn’t grumble as so far we have had more good weather than bad. At least the lack of rain means that the grass doesn’t want mowing so often, so every cloud has a silver lining.
Next week sees me doing a tour of East Anglia’s hospitals with visits to the Norfolk & Norwich, Addenbrooks in Cambridge, the West Suffolk in Bury St Edmunds plus blood tests at the Healthy Living Centre in Thetford so although our holiday to Majorca for next week had to be cancelled I will be getting out and about and seeing the world!
I have now bought an album and have stuck all my lovely cards and letters that you have all sent me into it, so many thanks to all of you for your kind and positive wishes – it really helps to know that I have a cast of thousands routing for me (ok, maybe 1 or 2 of you!!!)
Please keep all your emails coming too, as they really do mean a lot to me, and I never knew that I had so many comedians for friends either!
Love to you all
Maralyn xxx

Spanner in the works – emailed 25 July 2011
Hi
Just a quick update to let you know that my 3<sup>rd</sup> chemo due today has been delayed until Thursday as my white blood cell count is too low. Fingers crossed that it is ok for Thursday so that I can hit my half-way mark without too much more delay.
If any-one knows a sure-fire way to boost the old white cell count then do get back to me asap with your tried and tested answers.
Thanks
Maralyn

What a Clot! – emailed 26 July 2011
I stand corrected – it is my clotting platelets that are a bit low which means I am not susceptible to bruising, and not my white blood cells which affect my immune system – what a clot!

Chemo 3 in the bag - emailed 28 July 2011
Hi
Just a quick email to let you know that chemo 3 is now in the bag today so that’s 3 down with 3 more to go so it’s halfway for me as far as chemo is concerned.
Now sitting here waiting for the spaceship to arrive to whisk me off to some far-off planet. I’ll be in touch to let you know how I fare this time once I return back to Earth!
Bye for now
Maralyn

Chemo 3 - Half-Way House – emailed 3 August 2011
Well, it’s now one week on from my 3<sup>rd</sup> chemo session which marks my half-way stage, and the last of cocktail number 1 drugs as my last 3 chemos will be a different cocktail so hoping that the next ‘tipple’ is to my liking! How have I been this time around? Well, the ‘spaceship’ only took me once round the block this time and I seem to have fared better as I managed not to end the day I had my chemo on with my head down the loo as on my previous 2 chemo days. I only picked at my dinner though, and the headache materialised by evening, but nowhere near as bad as I previously have had. I’m hoping that the last 3 will continue in the same vein.
Talking of veins though, I am now experiencing one of the common side effects of chemo ie damage to the veins in my arm hich means that I have problems every time I have to have a blood sample taken, as well as actually receiving the drugs. This is partly due to the fact that I can only use one arm for these, and this happens to be the same arm that I have previously used for my 63 donations of blood, not to mention countless routine blood tests over the years. Apparently, my veins will recover in time, but in the short term it means that I will be having a port inserted under my skin so that all future blood samples and chemo drugs can be administered this way which should be more convenient and less painful for me – I hope! I can’t say that I am relishing this, but I really do not have any other option, particularly since I will need to have a jab of herceptin every 3 weeks for a year even after my chemo has finished. Eventually, the port will be removed, and plenty of people who receive regular drug or chemo treatment have them inserted. The port will go in before my 4<sup>th</sup> chemo session which will take place a couple of hours later assuming my blood tests are ok.
What this problem with my veins has resulted in though is that I have the most wonderful bruising to my arm which extends down from my elbow and finishes in a wonderful bruise on my hand where the cannula was inserted making my right arm extremely painful and tender, not to mention all the colours of the spectrum too.
So now I know exactly what a pin-cushion feels like, and sleeping on a bed of nails is definitely not for me!
Sorry if the above info was too much for all of you who are faint-hearted, but I really don’t see why I have to take all the pain, and I would like to share it with all my friends – after all, what are friends for?!
So many thanks for sharing my treatment with me – we’re half-way through the chemo now and thanks for getting me this far!
Maralyn xx

Chemo 4 – Sting-in-the-Tail – emailed 23 August 2011
Well, almost a week now since Chemo number 4 on 17<sup>th</sup> of August – what a way to spend your 37<sup>th</sup> wedding anniversary, and having to have my port put in on the same day too – I sure know how to live! Thought that having our anniversary meal on the same evening as chemo wasn’t a good idea so we celebrated it in style the previous Friday, although I was pleasantly surprised to eat a full dinner the evening of chemo, and keep it down!
Oh, how innocent I was thinking that this first one of my change of chemo cocktail was going to be easy-peasy! For the day before and a couple of days after my new cocktail regime I have to take steroids to alleviate some of the side-effects, except that as soon as the steroids wear off the ‘sting-in-the-tail’ takes effect – and how! Every part of my body now aches and I am doing a very good impression of ’Old Father Time’ as even negotiating the stairs is a major exertion! My head aches, my stomach aches and the pain in my fingernails is excruciating, especially when I wash my hands! Everything is too much effort. In fact, by the Sunday I felt so weak and tearful that I phoned the hospital to find out if what I felt was ‘normal’. Yes was the answer which made me feel better to know, but hasn’t made the sheer tiredness and misery go away. I had to phone again the next morning to assess how I felt, and the Staff Nurse decided that it would be better to defer my 1<sup>st</sup> dose of Herceptin due that day until the day before Chemo 5 since I felt so rough. At least by then I will only have one more chemo to go – thank goodness!
To add insult to injury I know that I am grinding my teeth in my sleep, which I am prone to do as they ache in the morning, but as a result I have managed to break off a piece of a filling on my back tooth so have had to visit my Dentist for remedial treatment to make sure that it is not open to infection!
I have another MUGA-scan this Thursday too to check on the pumping action of my heart, which will I am hoping be done via an injection in my foot this time as I do NOT want a repeat performance of my fainting episode the last time I had this done. As long as it is painless and uneventful I don’t care!
So there you have it – 2/3 of the way through the chemo now but boy, will I be glad when this is all over as I think that the novelty has well and truly worn off by now. I certainly need all you guys supporting me more than ever now as I am finding it very difficult by myself so please keep up all your good work – we’re almost on the homeward straight!
Maralyn x

Straight from the heart – emailed 25 August 2011
Just got in from my MUGA Scan which checks on the pumping efficiency of the heart and again my reading was in the 80’s which is the top end of the scale - most people are down in the 60’s so at least that’s one less thing to worry about. My 1st reading on the 22nd of June was 87 which everyone raves about, and I will have these scans every couple of months whilst I am on Herceptin. I also had my dressing changed where my port went in and it is healing nicely so thankfully no more chemo or herceptin now for a fortnight - bliss!!!

Chemo 5 - My Penultimate Chemo Session – The Light at the End of the Tunnel Nears – emailed 17 September 2011
I had a very busy week last week starting with Tuesday’s appointment with my Specialist Chemo Nurse to discuss how things went with the last chemo session, having blood samples taken, as well as setting the date for my last chemo on Thursday 29<sup>th</sup> September – yippee! – a ‘Red-Letter Day’ that can’t come soon enough. It will be cakes all round in the West Suffolk Hospital’s Macmillan unit that day – just in time for the Macmillan Biggest Coffee Morning 2011 event which I hope will receive lots of support throughout the country. Now that my last chemo is almost here A will be writing to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital informing them of it’s date so that they can start scheduling the 3 weeks of Monday to Friday radiotherapy treatment that I will be receiving there, hopefully 4 to 6 weeks after my last chemo.
My appointment with A was followed on Thursday by my 1<sup>st</sup> dose of Herceptin, the very expensive wonder drug that I will be receiving once every 3 weeks for the next year - in fact, it is so expensive that I must confirm my attendance to receive it by contacting the Macmillan unit on the morning of every of my Herceptin appointments. The 1<sup>st</sup> dose of Herceptin is a ‘loaded’ dose which is topped up every 3 weeks, so it is very important that they are given on time. If the 3 weeks is extended by too much then, instead of a top-up dose, I will have to receive a ‘loaded’ dose once again. In practical terms what receiving a ‘loaded dose’ means is that I have to remain in the Macmillan unit for 6 hours to be monitored for any adverse reaction to the greater dose, as I had to last Thursday. Luckily I was fine, and the 6 hours passed surprisingly quickly for me as there is such a sense of camaraderie amongst the patients in the unit that you end up coming away with a sore throat because of all the chatting and laughter that is going on. Because of the possibility of having an adverse reaction to the dose I am not allowed to drive myself to a ‘loaded dose’ session so poor old Lou also had to endure the 6 hour session too!
It was back to the Macmillan unit the next day, Friday, for the 2<sup>nd</sup> of the dreaded Docetaxel chemo drug that I received last time – the ‘sting in the tail’ one that warrants me donning my suit of armour to protect myself against its habit of making me feel as if I have doubled in age overnight. A advised me to paint my finger and toenails with nail strengthener to protect them against the pain in my nail beds which I experienced last time and so far so good. However, this time I have experienced such pain in my feet and they ache so much that I now do a very good impression of a marathon runner crossing the line after having run a marathon every day for at least a fortnight! I can honestly say that my feet really are ‘killing me’! Coupled with not sleeping well as well as everything I eat or drink tasting diabolical I have to console myself with the knowledge that in less than a fortnight from now I will have had my last chemo and that soon after this the chemo ‘nasties’ will be beginning to leave me and that my body will hopefully be mine once again.
Finally, Saturday had me having a sub-cutaneous injection being administered by the District Nurse in order to maintain my blood count levels ready for my final chemo, so all in all a busy week with me being treated like a pin-cushion once more. One week later I’m still waiting for the effects of the chemo to wear-off but at least there is a light shining more brightly at the end of the tunnel now.
Strange to think that the date of September 11<sup>th</sup> this year signified to me that it was exactly 6 months since I first discovered ‘my lump’ which has set me off on ‘My Journey’. I still have some way to go, but at the least the bulk of the ‘uphill’ part of ‘My Journey’ is nearly over before I start my downhill road to recovery.
Thanks for being with me so far, and keep it up as we haven’t quite reached the finishing line yet, but the journey will soon become easier and less stony I hope.
Maralyn xx

Chemo 6 – Surviving ‘Chemical Warfare’ – The ‘Turning Point’ – emailed 6 October 2011
It’s now one week on from my last chemo session and I’m not yet ready to take off my ‘suit of amour’ as I am still reeling from the toughest one yet. Whether this is a culmination of all my previous chemos, or whether it is because those ‘chemical nasties’ have decided not to ‘go quietly’ but want to have the ‘last word’ I don’t know. All I can say is that at my very first appointment with my Oncologist way back in June I was told that the chemotherapy treatment I was going to receive was referred to by the initials of the drugs in question – FEC-T. For those of you who are fans of Father Ted I would say that never was a treatment so aptly named!
So as I quietly wait for my body to finally recover from my latest bout of ‘chemical warfare’ I liken myself to being like a piece of seaweed that has finally been left washed up ‘high and dry’ on the beach now that the tide has finally begun to turn in my favour.
Until you have been through chemo you have absolutely no ideas what it is all about, or how long it drags on for. For me, my op was only the beginning. As the breast care nurse said to me breast cancer patients have it tough as they start off feeling and looking fine but by the end of it they most certainly know what has hit them.
In the words of Jennifer Saunders’ husband (Jennifer Saunders is also a breast cancer victim):-. No one, he says, ‘battles’ cancer. Neither is it ‘a rollercoaster ride’. ‘It’s just a long, slow, miserable grind,’ and he wants me to quote him on that verbatim.
‘So, there is no battle. I hate the word battle. You just get battered with a load of drugs. People want the words “trauma”, “battle” and " life-changing", but it’s not a great three-part TV drama full of moments, it’s a long grind, like a slow car crash that will last five years and then, hopefully, we’ll get out.’
‘Something like 140 women a day learns that they’ve got breast cancer,’ he says. 'If they knew more about the disease, rather than having to read all this nonsense about battles, then they’d be able to accept what they’re in for and be better prepared to face it.
'I personally know five people who have had breast cancer and it’s just miserable. It happens slowly. You don’t suddenly ring someone up and say: “I’ve got cancer. I’m going to die.” You ring up and say: “They’ve found a shadow. I’ve got to go and have another test.”
‘You don’t find out the worst until…’ he pauses. 'They find a shadow in a picture. Then people look at it a bit more. They test it and say: “We think it’s this. We’d better do another test.”
‘They grab a bit and think it might be bad so you might have to have a bit of radiotherapy. It’s all very incremental.’

I think that he sums it up pretty well in what he says in his interview.
Over these long months I have had some really lovely replies from lots of people, and that is why I refer to the royal ‘We’ in my ‘Round Robin’ email. Tough enough for me, but made all the easier by having my friends, family and colleagues in this with me – the list is endless, but you all know who you are and I thank every single one of you, not just the emails I have received, but for the countless cards, phone-calls, flowers, kind deeds and gifts which still continue to arrive.
A colleague at work said in a reply to me:-
You have such a wonderful sense of humour when you are explaining all that has happened to you that’s quite extraordinary. I’m sure you are covering up all the tears between though.’
My reply to her was ‘As for tears, I think they were all shed in the early days, and the main thing now for me is just to grit my teeth and see it through. Chemo most certainly is NOT a barrel of laughs, but it is a necessary evil I’m afraid and people do come out the other end, as I know I will. If it didn’t work they wouldn’t do it. Some people have to have it weekly, if not daily. Attending the Macmillan unit is a very humbling experience and you begin to realise just how common cancer is, and how much more than me some people have to contend with, and who are far less fortunate than me. I have watched some people receive at least 3 units of blood in one session, and far more chemo sessions than my 6, and more than once over the years.
It is not just me who has to endure the treatment, but your friends and family too, but I am lucky to have their support along the way as it really, really does help. I know that this sounds awful, but I know that I probably won’t be the last person to go through the experience, but at least I can offer as much support to them as I have received myself.’
My chemo and the rest of my after-care is purely an insurance policy to ensure that no ‘rogue’ cells have escaped and also to help guard against any re-occurrence – I am cancer-free.
Some of the other patients in the Macmillan Unit I’ve attended are not, and their treatment is to shrink tumours either before surgery or because this is the only way to remove them, or even to receive palliative chemotherapy to help to prolong their lives. I am so relieved that I am not in that category and this has helped in keeping me positive too. The Breast Care Nurses tell you that they will see you through it and I know that they will. Strangely, I am glad that my cancer is so high-profile, so common and so researched that they know what they are dealing with – 46,000 women being diagnosed each year in the UK alone is a phenomenal statistic – 1 in 8 women will experience what I have so I am not alone.
A couple of weeks back Lou and I went to watch the ‘Girls’ Night Out’ which was a night-time walk through Bury St Edmunds to raise funds for St Nicholas Hospice in Bury. Becky Jago of Anglia News fame supports this and took part in it, and Lou is her number 1 fan so we went for him to see her, and for me to support the walk as I had some friends taking part. I would have loved to have done it but the side-effects of my chemo made it too difficult. Anyway, the following news story appeared in the Bury Free Press which if you google ‘Girls’ Night Out, St Nicholas Hospice’ you can read for yourself, but the following came from the report:-
Most were there because cancer had taken someone dear, including Anglia Tonight presenter Becky Jago, whose mother died from cancer. “I’ve only been here half an hour and I’ve been close to tears twice,” she said. “There’s a memory board and I wrote a message for my mum, that made me cry.
“I also spoke to a lady who’s having chemo so she can’t do it herself, but she came to support others.”
The lady she spoke to who’s having chemo is me! And I have the photo of her with Lou to prove it! We both received a hug from her and Lou hasn’t come down from ‘Cloud 9’ yet! And I met 2 friends who were taking part in the walk whilst we were there so amongst the hundreds taking part I did well to spot them! Maybe next year will see me taking part.
I also have been keeping a document called ‘My Journey’ which is like a diary of my chemo treatment and my thoughts, as well as how I am feeling and events along the way. At the moment it is just for me and only me, but whether it eventually becomes a blog is another matter. Maybe further down the line as I am nearing the finishing line, but not yet as radiotherapy still to go, and, of course, getting over this last chemo session! Perhaps it may be of some help to other women to read, but the trouble is cancer is individual as is the treatment, and no two people receiving the same chemo drugs will react in the same way so please remember this when you read my updates.
As my sister said she knows plenty of cancer patients, but very little about their treatment and just what it involves or how it impacts on your life.
So, as I finally come to the end of my ‘chemical warfare’ and am about to embark on the radiotherapy treatment I would like to thank you all for letting me share the past few months with you and for helping me deal with, what I guess has been, the toughest part of my treatment.
Finally, I am due to have my first appointment on 20<sup>th</sup> of October with the Oncologist at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital where I will be receiving my radiotherapy treatment as this is not carried out at the West Suffolk Hospital ie 3 weeks after my last chemo session which is the point at which my body should be returning to ‘normality’ – whatever this means! As far as I can ascertain, this will be followed by another appointment where I will be ‘marked-up’ for my daily dose of radiotherapy, and then be given my schedule outlining when my unbroken run of daily radiotherapy across 3 weeks is to be spread. All being well I think the aim is to start the radiotherapy treatment within 4 to 6 weeks of the last chemo session.
I will also continue to receive my herceptin treatment, again on a rigorous 3 week cycle at the West Suffolk Hospital, with regular MUGA-scans of my heart along the way to check that I am still ‘wowing’ them with my readings.
So, not quite at the ‘finishing line’ but we have come a very long way over these past few months, and hopefully, it’s downhill all the way now to my full recovery. Yes, it has been tough, but we have come through it with team-effort so as one stage of my treatment finishes and the next stage is about to commence I just want to say a very big ‘thank-you’ to every one of you for being part of my ‘Round Robin team’, and hope that you will stay with me for a bit longer, and I will continue to let you know how we are faring.
Not the year I would have wished for myself, or my family, but strange as this might sound, some people go through much worse than I have. I have a future and I’ll beat this just like many others before have and will continue to do so.
With love and thanks to you all for being there for me
Maralyn xxx

Preparing for Radiotherapy – emailed 1 November 2011
Following on from my appointment on the 20<sup>th</sup> of October with the oncologist at the Norfolk & Norwich hospital where my radiotherapy treatment was explained to me and I signed the consent form, I had an appointment today for a CT Planning Scan which enables them to know exactly where to target the treatment. I was given 3 freckle-sized tattoos which will enable them to pinpoint and always hit their target on each of my 15 sessions.
My radiotherapy schedule starts on Thursday 17<sup>th</sup> of November and finishes on Wednesday 7<sup>th</sup> of December so it spreads over 4 weeks. I’m a bit miffed that my last radiotherapy is not until the 7<sup>th</sup> of December as I had hoped it would all be done and dusted by the end of November so that I was over the fatigue and after-effects long before Christmas, but at least all the alcohol over Christmas should help me to get through it!
I have also managed to arrange to have my 5<sup>th</sup> herceptin treatment due on 30<sup>th</sup> of November and half-way through my radiotherapy sessions to be given at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital instead of the West Suffolk Hospital, thereby saving me having to do a 100 mile plus journey to 2 hospitals for 2 treatments on the same day.
Apparently I can opt to take part in trials as it has been found that of 10 women receiving the ‘belt and braces’ treatment of radiotherapy to prevent a re-occurrence, only 1 in 10 actual needs it, and the other 9 receive it needlessly. I have decided that as I have been unlucky enough to be the ‘1 in 8’ who has developed breast cancer I do not want to be the ‘1 in 10’ who afterwards develops it yet again! I am going to take all the treatment I am offered as nobody has a crystal ball to know that the future holds for them.
So until I have my 1<sup>st</sup> radiotherapy treatment on Thursday 17<sup>th</sup> of November I am still trying to shake off the last of the ‘Chemo Gremlins’ who are still lurking around inside me. The strange thing is that I feel some of the after-effects far more strongly now 2 weeks after my last chemo then I did earlier on. I have been told that this is quite normal and a lot of people experience this as it can take a good 6 to 8 weeks to get over the residual chemo that remains in my body. So I am just going to have to put up with the fluid-retention which is causing me to suffer swollen ankles and painful legs for the time being. Another side-effect I have to endure is my ‘leaking eyes’ which is due to the fact that I don’t have very many eyelashes left to speak of. At least I have been spared losing my fingernails and toenails and even great layers of skin that the ‘dreaded docetaxel’ has caused other women I have met to suffer. All I need now is a thicker ‘winter coat’ rather than the ‘baby fuzz’ I am currently sporting!
I must admit though that it will be nice to look in a mirror and see ‘Me’ looking back instead of the current ‘stranger’s’ reflection!
So in just over a fortnight’s time now the next stage of ‘My Journey’ will commence so stick around with me as I am sure that, compared to my ‘Chemical Warfare’, radiotherapy will be a doddle!
In the meantime, love to you all
Maralyn

The Radiotherapy Stage of ‘My Journey’ – 5 down, 10 to go! - emailed 23 November 2011
Well, the radiotherapy stage of ‘My Journey’ has now started and I had my 5th radiotherapy session today, so only another 10 to go. So far, so good, but early days yet. I have been told that any side effects of the treatment, such as soreness or redness of my skin, are likely to appear 2 weeks after treatment finishes which for me will be over the Christmas period! Let’s hope the aqueous cream which is recommended for my skin does the trick! At least this is not ‘chemical warfare’ though.
Although the journey to the hospital is a good run in from Thetford along the A11, and only takes a good ½ hour, I am allowing a good hour and a quarter at least to allow for bad weather, traffic and parking in the run-up to Christmas. Trouble is you end up hanging about but better to be there early. At least with most of the appointments being over the lunchtime period there is less traffic on the roads, and if the weather turns ‘iffy’ by then it should have cleared. This also means travelling whilst it’s daylight too so fewer delays one hopes! It just means that the parking situation is not so good, especially when it gets near to the visiting times of between 2pm and 4pm.
Tomorrow will be 8 weeks on from my last chemo treatment and the side-effects are lessening each day. I still have the tingly hands and feet, and as the fluid retention is slowly easing this is reducing the aching legs. The bases of my nails are now pink in colour and the discolouring caused by the ‘Dreaded Docetaxel’ is growing out. The ‘Dreaded Docetaxel’ certainly has a lot to answer for! It was only when I started on this ‘chemo cocktail’ that my eyelashes and eyebrows decided to abandon ship when, up until then, they had stuck with me through the 3 doses of FEC.

I keep looking at my leg hairs which have started appearing, and, like King Canute, I keep telling them to go back and reappear on my eyelids but they do not take any notice, and just wave at me!

Why is it we wait so long for certain hairs to appear, whereas the ones we have previously spent hours in the past getting rid of, come and flaunt themselves shamelessly? Is there no justice in this world?!
At least all this points to my ‘green shoots of recovery’ as my body slowly recovers from the battering it has endued these past few months.
I worked out the other day that, so far since all this started, I have had 33 hospital appointments at the West Suffolk Hospital alone, let alone those at the N and N, my GP or Addenbrooks! Thank goodness that Lou has a Blue Badge otherwise I dread to think what we would have spent on parking, let alone petrol! By the time the radiotherapy is over I will have been having treatment of one form or another for 9 months, and I will still be having my 3 weekly herceptin and regular MUGA scans at least until late summer 2012, plus checkups with surgeons, oncologists etc etc. No chance of me slipping through the net – Big Brother NHS is watching me – thank goodness!
I have more appointment days between now and the end of the year than free-days! So far, these include 10 radiotherapy sessions, a MUGA scan, a CT scan, 2 more herceptin treatments, a Chemo-Nurse appointment, and a chiropody appointment. I still need to make an appointment with my Dentist to sort out the temporary filling that was done in August whilst I was having my chemo treatment, and I could also do with getting my eyes re-tested! At least my car passed its MOT!
It’s been a long old haul these past 9 months, and it has completely taken over my life this year, as well as my hubby’s. Still the worst and the bulk of my appointments are behind me now – I hope!
We have come a long way this year so not much further for us all to go. Many thanks for sharing this journey with me and Lou, and the rest of my family – you have lessened our burden considerably.
With much love and thanks to you all for being there for us. I can’t tell you how much this is appreciated.
Maralyn xx

A Diversion emailed 15 January 2012
Well, here we are again. A New Year, but not quite a new beginning just yet.
I finished my 15 radiotherapy sessions just over a month ago now, and compared to chemo, they were a doddle, although driving to and from Norwich everyday, and arriving at least an hour beforehand to ensure that we managed to find a car-parking space, meant that the radiotherapy ‘zap’ managed to take up the best part of the day. On the plus side, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has a resource called ‘The Big C Centre’ and I, and my primary carer, am entitled to 6 complimentary therapies. So far I have availed myself of 4 of these and I can thoroughly recommend a head and face massage – bliss!
I worked out that since ‘My Journey’ commenced way back in March, between us, Lou and I have driven more than 2,500 miles back and forth to various hospitals across East Anglia, and my treatment is not over yet! Cancer treatment is an expensive past-time if you take into account car-parking charges too, and wear-and-tear on the car – not to mention us!!!
Other than my 3 weekly doses of herceptin (which is not chemo, but a hormone-type treatment) and the associated MUGA-scans to check on the pumping action on my heart every 3 or so months I am finished with my breast cancer treatment. Mind you, I found out that, apparently women who have been treated for breast cancer are at an increased risk of osteoporosis due to the chemotherapy and other hormone treatments. Although I am not on these particular hormone treatments I am still being offered a bone density scan to check my bone health, and then, if I am found to be at risk, I can receive drug treatment to help prevent osteoporosis. So this Monday I am off to the BMI hospital in Bury St Edmunds to avail myself of this screening.
I also need to have something else sorted out as a result of my CT scan way back in June so there is another operation for me to undergo, but it is totally unrelated to breast cancer, and somewhere else anyway. Although this was picked up way back in June, Addenbrooks carried out an endoscopy in November and discovered nothing untoward, and followed this with another CT scan in December, as well as an ultra-sound and then an MRI scan on January 3<sup>rd</sup>. Because these investigations are lead by Addenbrooks Hospital in Cambridge, which is a gold standard hospital and leaders in this field, they have decided that they want to remove the offending cyst that they have discovered so that both they and I don’t have to worry about it, or keep a check on it in the future. I had my pre-op assessment on Thursday, and now wait for my operation date which I am hoping will come sooner rather than later so that I have no time to worry about it – after all , who looks forward to having an op and a hospital stay?!!
So another operation is in the pipeline for me, and I’ll probably end up being in better shape than you folks! I am certainly going to be under NHS scrutiny for quite some time which I actually find very comforting, so I am very grateful that I live in an area well served for both cancer treatment and health screening in general, and thank goodness for our NHS too!
I am looking forward to 2012 but not for the Olympics. For me, I hope that 2012 means a return to ‘normality’ and my hum-drum life once this operation is over, although I don’t suppose life will ever be ‘normal’ again. I have met some lovely and inspiring people these past few months, as well as experiencing a side of life that I was totally ignorant about before. Strange as it may sound, but I have met some people who have been dealt a far worse fate in life than me. Cancer will affect 1 in 3 people, and this frightening statistic is set to increase over the years. It is a sad fact of life, but so many people have been with me on ‘My Journey’ over these past months in terms of family, friends and colleagues, as well as health professionals, that I know that I have had the very best of support and care and this has made ‘My Journey’ far less arduous knowing that you have all been with me along the way.
Many thanks for being with me on what has been a very, very long journey, far longer and more tiring than I imagined when I set out last March, but thanks to you all we have made it (almost!) so a heartfelt thank-you to you all, and wishing for good health for us all in 2012. I most certainly could do without this diversion to ‘My Journey’ but I know that you will all be with me for just a bit longer. I will let you know as soon as I have a date for my operation.
2012 heralds a New Year, and a new beginning for me, once Addenbrooks Hospital have finished with me.
In the meantime,
With love to you all
Maralyn x

Hotel Addenbrooke’s, Cambridge emailed 20 January 2012
Just to let you know that I have my operation booked at Addenbrooke’s for Monday 30 January so just over another week of worrying about it for me . They originally gave me the following Monday for my op, but I managed to get them to bring it forward by a week. The downside is that my next herceptin treatment will be delayed as a result. This means that when I restart my herceptin treatment I will have a 6 hour appointment in the Macmillan unit at the West Suffolk Hospital just like my very first dose. This is a bit of a bind, but at least this op will be over and done with by then, and I will be on the road to recovery once more. At the moment I am assuming that my stay in hospital will be anything from a week to a fortnight, assuming everything goes to plan, so fingers crossed that they manage to just do a laparoscopy as they intend which will cut down on both my recovery time and length of hospital stay.
Obviously, after next Monday I won’t be able to reply to any emails until I am home again so I will send out an email to let you know once I am.
I will be able to take phone calls on my mobile whilst in Addenbrooke’s, although I probably won’t have my mobile with me until Lou visits me after my op and I am back on a ward as opposed to being in recovery.
Anyway, I’m certainly not looking forward to having another op (who does?), and trying not to think about it, but the sooner it is over, then the sooner I can get back in control of my life once more.
I know that you will all be keeping your fingers and toes crossed for me for a bit longer, and I’ll be keeping my head in the sand until it is all over!
Maralyn x
The ‘Walking Wounded’ Soldier is home again emailed 6 February 2012
Just a brief email to let you know that I was discharged from Addenbrooke’s on Friday evening and home by 8.30pm after my 6 hour op last Monday. Thank goodness I managed to get my op brought forward by a week as it was originally scheduled for today and we would have had to have been at Addenbrooke’s for 7am this morning – snow and ice notwithstanding! At least the op is over and now I have to concentrate on getting better – no mean feat when I still have a drain attached to the wound, which is very, very uncomfortable. This won’t be removed until after I have had my outpatient’s appointment back at Addenbrooke’s.
So I didn’t have a very long stay at Hotel Addenbrookes, but I was there long enough to know that for clinical care they are a Centre of Excellence – which is more than can be said for their cuisine!!!
Love and best wishes to you all, and I’ll be in touch once I feel more like me, and less like the ‘Walking Wounded’ once more!
Maralyn x

One Year On & Time To Move On & Sign Off – emailed 11 March 2012
Well here we are – 1 year on from discovering my ‘lump’ and the start of ‘My Journey’ on what has undoubtedly been the toughest year of my life. During the past 12 months I have lost count of the various appointments I have had with my GP, the West Suffolk Hospital and the BMI Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital and Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, as well as the number of hours spent, and the countless miles Lou and I have travelled. My treatment is not finished yet as I still have another 11 doses of herceptin to be administered at 3 weekly intervals with the next one being on Wednesday 14<sup>th</sup> of March. This entails a 6 hour appointment as I have to be ‘reloaded’ due to having to have my treatment halted whilst I recover from my recent operation at Addenbrooke’s. The cyst that was removed was found to be of no significance but getting over, what I have been told, was major surgery is taking some time. It was not associated with the breast cancer, and may have remained with me forever without ever causing a problem, but better out than in for my peace of mind. Although Addenbrooke’s would have discharged me, they gave me the option of returning in a year’s time for a CT scan which I have opted for. I will remain under the care of the West Suffolk Hospital for a number of years yet, even after my herceptin treatment has finished this autumn, but at least my appointments will eventually be spaced at longer intervals than I am currently accustomed to.
Over the past year I have witnessed a side of life that I was previously ignorant of, and I have been humbled by the kindness shown to me by my family, friends and colleagues as well as the medical profession. I was accompanied to theatre at Addenbrooke’s by a nurse who was undergoing chemotherapy herself and she was just beginning to lose her hair. I had to laugh when she told me that she thought that I had a ‘funky hair style’, but then the pair of us were in tears when she told me that her cancer had spread to her bones. No matter how tough a blow you think you have been dealt, there is always somebody undergoing far worse than yourself.
I have met so many lovely people along the way, and made so many new friends too, which is a positive outcome I wasn’t expecting.
So it is now one year on, and I think it is now time to move on and to thank you all for accompanying me on ‘My Journey’. This will be my last ‘Round Robin’ email update, but just because you won’t be hearing from me on a regular basis doesn’t mean that I have forgotten you. It merely means that my life has returned to its normal boring, hum-drum routine, and that is just the way I want it to be. Maybe not quite as normal as it was a year ago, but at least with a focus on things other than my treatment.
Some of you I will see again on a daily basis and some of you less often, but just because I may not see or hear from you more regularly doesn’t mean that I don’t wish to carry on receiving your emails, letters and phone calls.
What I have learned over this year is that we must do things now whilst we have the time and the ability to do so, instead of putting them off, for sometimes tomorrow never comes. Too often daily life and work get in the way of what we would prefer to be doing with our time and energies. I have decided that from now onwards I will make a real effort to find the time to see the people in life who really matter to me, and to do all the things that I really want to do.
So as I sign off this last ‘Round Robin’ email let me just say once more a huge thank-you to you all for being there for me and my family these past 12 months, and should you ever you need me I will be here for you. Knowing that you were there supporting me has made ‘My Journey’ so much easier to travel.
With much love
Maralyn xxx

Dear Maralyn

I have noticed that you have not recieved any replies to this post. I suspect it it because it is in the new threads section and this is why I am adding this post now to ‘bump’ it up and put it over on to the latest threads.

With all good wishes for your continued recovery

Anna

Thankyou so much for sharing your" journey. " I read it and it brought back the enormity of what some have been through.I totally agree it is like a slow car crash and now the other side of active treatment, I am still nursing my injuries physically and emotionally. Sharing experiences with others on this site got me through the rough bits and I am so grateful to have this place to turn to if I am having a negative day. I still get them but less often now. It’s onwards and upwards for me while I have the chance. Family and friends are more precious. My time is precious. I spend time with the people I love and do the things I want to do. I have never met most of the people on here but I have felt their friendship and support when I needed it. Keep sharing everyone! Love to you all xx

Thanks for your comments Janipi and I am sure that anybody else sharing ‘My Journey through my BC treatment’ and who has also come out the other side will realise just how far we have travelled since that fateful day when we first received our diagnosis.
To those of you just starting out on your very own journey I hope that my post gives you an insight into the road you are about to travel along, but please remember that this is MY account of MY journey and yours may not necessarily take the same route, but you WILL cross the finishing line eventually.
There is life on the other side of the line, even if it is somewhat different from the life you once knew. In fact, it may even be sweeter than it was before.
Take care and remember that you are not alone on your journey as there are lots of us here in the background willing you on.
With love
Mazzalou xx

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. As you say we are all different but I found your account of your journey a compelling read.

Thank you for sharing your journey
take care xxx

Thanks for your lovely comments, and I am glad that you have found my posting helpful.
Thursday 18th of April was my 2 year anniversary to remove my breast cancer, my 2nd mammogram results are clear and on Friday my wonderful consultant said goodbye to me, so, other than an annual mammogram for the next 3 years, that’s it! What a long way my family, friends and colleagues have travelled this past 2 years but with their love and support I have made it, as will all you lovely ladies who haven’t yet finished your very own journey.
See you all at the finishing line!
xx

Hi Mazzalou,
Just finished reading your journey, Thank you so much for sharing it.
I am also keeping a diary of my journey, for me its a good way of remembering what I felt like and what I had done.
I finished my chemo yesterday, I have my op booked for 2 weeks followed by radiotherapy and I am also having 18 doses of herceptin.
Its good to hear you are doing well.
Thanks again

xxx

Congratulations on finishing your chemo, Susanmary and good luck for you op in a couple of weeks time. Before you know it you will be on the road to recovery and doing the high-kicks around the garden once more!
Best wishes
Mazzalou xx