“I thought I had it but no, looks like I’ll have to get the doctor,” said the smiley nurse before trotting off. She’d had two attempts at inserting a needle and of course, with my crap veins, two failures. Track marks and bruises stained my arms making me look like an extra from Trainspotting.
The doctor arrived and another two attempts were made but to no avail. My CT scan was swiftly cancelled. Shit, shit and flying shit, I really needed the scan to see if the Eribulin chemotherapy was working. It was decided to reschedule it for the following week when I was due to have a port fitted into my chest; that way the skilled chemo nurses could cannulate me and we could get both procedures done in one day.
I’ve never been bothered about needles but the last few visits to the hospital have led to pain, discomfort and an increasing sense of dread. The nurse can’t tell immediately if the needle she has just inserted hasn’t reached its target. There is a certain amount of manoeuvring; a little turn right, maybe a nudge left, pushing in a bit deeper. My shy, retiring veins seem to sense when a needle is near, shrinking away just after the nurse’s refrain, “short, sharp scratch,” because they know as I do that it will neither be short, nor just a scratch.
The day before the scan I was worried about the nurses not being able to find a vein and brought this up in my EFT session with Emma. She encouraged me to tap the mantra ‘my veins are strong and robust,’ at every opportunity over the next 24 hours. Remarkably given the recent record, the chemo nurse managed both to put the cannula and take blood from a different vein at the first attempt. Later, when we were told at the CT scanning department that I needed a bigger cannula for the dye to be injected into we returned to the chemo ward and the same nurse managed to cannulate me first time yet again. Something that hadn’t been achieved in about six months!
I’ve had a few scans in the last twenty months and you’re always told the same thing. “You’ll get a strange taste in your mouth and then you might feel like you’ve wet yourself, but don’t worry, it’s just the dye.” No matter how reassuring their bedside manner, there’s nothing relaxing about feeling like you’re pissing yourself whilst laid on a bed with three people watching you from behind a screen.
As I passed slowly through the giant Polo mint-shaped scanner I used the visualisation techniques I’d been taught, imagining the cancer being wiped away by a white handkerchief (I’m aware I sound quite mad) and willing a clean scan.
When I jumped up to leave the radiographer asked, “Is someone with you today?” and immediately I started to worry; I imagined that the scans were bad and that she was checking I had support with me. This made no sense as I wouldn’t get the results until the following Monday but that’s how my mind works. From positivity to hideous outcomes in the blink of an eye.
Next stop was the port and by this point I was pleased I was having a general anaesthetic. Finally, a bit of peace. The operation went smoothly and Tom and I were soon in a taxi on the way home. We had a weekend of seeing friends and relaxing ahead of us, and then on Monday we’d see Professor Hope to find out if the Eribulin was working.
I’m not sure why but I don’t get as nervous about results as I used to. Perhaps after all the scans and difficult waiting I’ve used up all my nervous energy; I just don’t get that feeling of my heart taking a dive into my stomach any more. I think Professor Hope has a lot to do with it too because I know he’ll have a plan that he’ll have thought hard about.
I could tell Tom was nervous but the wait wasn’t long and after welcoming us in Professor Hope thankfully got straight to the point. “The tumours haven’t shrunk but they’ve not progressed either.”
How is it that the option you don’t even consider is often the one that materialises? How do you learn to expect the unexpected? I’d only thought about how I’d feel if they’d gotten smaller or grown; not if they’d stayed the same size. Professor Hope explained that the Eribulin had had an effect, but in his book this wasn’t good enough. He wanted me to try something different.
A few weeks before Christmas I received an email from a research centre that Professor Hope had put me in touch with the previous summer. They told me about a trial coming up but specified that to be eligible my cancer had to test positive for a certain receptor, which is only present in 20% of cancers. This is my interpretation of the information so I might be totally wrong but science was never my strong point! In any case I signed the consent form allowing them to test an old tumour sample that must have been hanging around in a fridge somewhere and thought nothing else of it. A one in five chance did not sound like I’d be going on this trial.
Remarkably, I was wrong. A week before my CT scan I was told that I was eligible. Finally here was an occasion where I fitted into the slim percentage for a good reason! The chance of getting breast cancer in your 20s is about 1 in 2000, and only 20% of women with breast cancer have the triple negative variant that I do. God knows how miniscule the percentage must be of women in their twenties who have a hormone receptive breast cancer that ‘flips’ to triple negative, but I’m sure you get my point.
On this occasion the timing was perfect. The call came just before we were due to decide what plan of action to take if it turned out that the Eribulin hadn’t been working, presenting us with another option.
And so I’m headed for a clinical trial. I went for a meeting yesterday where the doctor explained all the ins and outs in a level of technical detail which I just about understood after he drew a sketch of how the drug works. Brainy Tom seemed to pick it up with just verbal explanation but Thicko At The Back needed a bit of artwork to help her understand just what was going on!
How do I feel? I’m on neither end of the emotional scale. I’m not hugely excited to be on a trial but nor am I devastated by the news that the cancer hasn’t shrunk. I trust Professor Hope to make the right choices for me, and from the couple of times I’ve met them I trust the team at the research centre as well. I’m getting used to the road taking sharp turns and learning to just follow the path that is laid before me.
And the bonus if this stuff works? (I’ll have to call it ‘stuff’ as it’s so new that its name is just a combination of letters and numbers) I may have hair just in time for the wedding. From a vanity point of view things are looking up!