hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to the last chemo I go…

Excited
adjective
1. very enthusiastic and eager.

From the moment I woke up this morning, I was excited. Excited almost feels like an understatement… thrilled, exhilarated, elevated, animated or electrified would work, also… many words describe this feeling. Today trumps every birthday, Christmas or New Year’s I have ever celebrated – that’s a big call because my 30th birthday week in Malta was pretty amazing. Picture a five-year-old, in a candy store, eyes beaming wide, jumping up and down. That was me this morning.

There are no prizes for guessing why I have an extra spring in my step. The answer is fairly obvious to anyone who has been following this blog. For the benefit of anyone who has just stumbled upon my journey, here’s a hint: Today was my last round of chemo! *Fist pump*

You may think that is enough to celebrate, but for me, there’s more. I am excited, because I feel so damn good! I’ve made it through ‘one of the toughest times in my life’ fairly unscathed. How could I feel this good? Have they been giving me enough drugs? Both questions have crossed my mind a few times. Aren’t I supposed to be struggling to get out of bed? Struggling to walk to the letterbox? Instead, last week I managed three gym sessions and two runs. I definitely think that is something to celebrate.

Before you start to think I am in denial about the whole situation, of course I recognise that my body has been affected. My hair is gone, I’ve lost a lot of strength and stamina, and my brain has become a little. However, all these things are temporary (I’m not sure about the mushy brain; I am getting old). My hair will grow back – I already have a bit of fluff growing – and in time my strength and stamina will get back to where it was, and hopefully surpass it. So to me, ‘fairly unscathed’ is a fitting description.

The road still isn’t fully paved before me; radiation or surgery is yet to be decided. I feel that after I recover from this last round of chemo, I will be able to take my first steps forward. Even though I’ll still be ‘in treatment’ I won’t have as many restrictions in place. I can get back on the bike, literally (and eat sushi…oh sushi how I’ve missed you…).

Before I get carried away about the future, let’s stick with the present. Let me tell you about today. January 30.

I woke up to the sweet smell of a Persian Love Cake baking in the oven. Mother had forewarned the staff of the ‘farewell’ menu. I think they think we’re a bunch of crazies. Who has a ‘farewell’ menu for chemo? We do… Flowers were purchased and a Thank You card. Someone once said to me that your oncology ward – your doctor, nurses, administration staff, and other patients – become part of your extended family during treatment. At first I couldn’t understand this. You only see these people every three weeks, how could you become attached? My plan was to go in, sit in a chair, get the drugs and go home. What I had in mind and what actually happened were two very different things. The genuine care you receive is hard to put into words, and I’ve definitely made them work hard during my treatment (read: reaction #1, reaction #2 and reaction #3). So for that, we wanted to do everything possible to say “thank you” for caring for me, for us.

My appointment was a little later that usual at 11:20 which was lucky because I had very special invitation for the morning. Every Wednesday I have been going with my friend, Meg to watch her little boy at his swimming lessons. Unfortunately (for me) he started prep on Tuesday, so no more mid-week swimming dates. Meg asked if I would like to take him to school so he could show me his classroom and meet his friend. For someone that doesn’t have a child, but loves children, moments like these are very special. After the hive of activity during the school drop off we snuck in a quick coffee catch up before it was time to get ready to head to the hospital.

I wish I could say it was an easy day at the office; it wasn’t. It’s never a good start when you start vomiting before the drug infusion starts. It was purely from just thinking about chemo. The brain is a funny thing… And it didn’t stop there. The only relief was I knew this was the last time. I looked over at the machine and saw there was only 12 minutes remaining. It was a long 12 minutes. I was thinking I would rather be doing burpees non-stop for 12 minutes than sitting there, and I hate burpees! Then it beeped. It was over.

It was such an anti-climax when it was time to leave. It felt like I was just saying goodbye until next round, not forever. I do have to pop up tomorrow and next week for an injection, maybe that’s why. My time in the oncology ward isn’t finished forever, yet.

Here I am, back home in bed, making use of the bell.

We did it.

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CrossFit through chemo – it’s possible

I have said all along I believe if your body is familiar with something then doing it through treatment is OK. Before treatment I could deadlift 95 kg’s, squat 70 kg’s and do full range push-ups. Doing CrossFit during treatment I had to scale down the weights, sometimes I would only do bodyweight exercises. I believe exercise helped me feel better both mentally and physically. I may not have been able to keep up with everyone else but life is about challenging yourself and doing the best you can. So that’s what I did.

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Number 2-9-9 got me feeling so fine…

A little story for your Saturday…

Last year I was walking around my local bike store, Yellow Jersey, and came across a brochure for an event called Triathlon Pink. Triathlon Pink is an event in support of breast cancer. The distances are small compared to a normal triathlon; the short course being 100m swim, 3km bike, 1km run. I looked at the dates and saw there was an event on the Gold Coast in October. I sent around a group email to see who would be interested in trying out their triathlon skills. It would be the perfect event as the distances were manageable for beginners. It’s a ‘fun’ event.

As you all know, I started chemo in October. Back then I thought, “I can still do the short course.” As it turned out, I was advised it wasn’t a good idea as the event was ten days after my first round of chemo, and that would be when my WBC’s would be lowest. As I’m an obedient patient, I held off from doing the event; lucky because I ended up in hospital on that day (if you remember) from having zero WBC’s. Lucky… I looked again at the website and saw there was another event in January, and this one was in Brisbane. PERFECT! I was due to finish chemo in December. I’ll be fine for that event, so I thought… So again, around went the email trying to rope in a few friends to lock in January. Then, chemo was extended. Great. It seemed I was destined NOT to take part in this event. I made the promise to my friends that if anyone wanted to take part, I would be there to support them.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. A friend of mine, Melissa had mentioned that instead of doing the triathlon, she had registered to take part in the 5km Fun Run Pink, which was open to both genders. She had signed up her boyfriend, Adam, also.

“Well I can run 5km!”

Screw spectating, I’m going to register, also. They were awesome and started a team family ‘Go Team Rocky’. So then there was three…

Today was Triathlon Pink / Fun Run Pink day. We woke up to beautiful clear skies, donned as much pink gear as we could gather and made our way to the Chandler Centre. I absolutely love the atmosphere at race events: the music, the crowds, people stressing about their bikes (usually me). We registered and lined up for our free T-shirt. I was a bit of a geek and took my race belt to attach my number; I was so excited to put a number back around my waist!

It wasn’t long before we were underway. 5km is nothing new for me, I’ve set out on a few 5km runs lately, but usually after 3km I would incorporate a few ‘walks’. Today, my aim was to keep running, no matter how slow. The course was a 2x 2.5km loop… with a hill (x2). We made it around the first loop, no problem. As we saw the hill ahead of us, for the second time, we all grimaced – well I know I did. One foot in front of the other is all it takes, I reminded myself. I kept my eyes on the turn-around sign at the top of the hill, and knew that I just had to make it to that point. What goes up must come down… The hard part was nearly over. I couldn’t have done it without the support of Melissa and Adam. There is something very special about having people around you to keep you pushing on. Melissa charged ahead up the hill and Adam stayed by my side. It was perfect! We all caught up together on the downhill and continued to the finish line. The official times are yet to be posted, but I think we crossed the line between 26-28 minutes. Very happy!

I honestly didn’t think I would be feeling this good three-months in from starting chemo. I didn’t think I would even be able to walk 5km at this stage. As you can imagine, I was beside myself with excitement that I had run the 5km continuously… but I couldn’t have done it without Melissa and Adam.

The perfect run was finished with a perfect breakfast at South Bank. What a start to the weekend! Now it’s time for some Australian Open action, and a nap.

** Side note: I spotted the event directors from Augustine Heights parkrun. Congratulations to the guy (I wish I knew his name), he was one of the top finishers!

Busy lil’ Bee

WHAT A WEEK!!! I know I’ve preached in the past about my self-inflicted rule: ‘one activity a day’, let’s just say, it’s been completely blown out of the water *smacks hand*. Just when I thought I had recovered from Christmas and New Years, it’s been an extra lively week: A 1000 word story due, jobs to get parkrun ready for its first trial, visitors from London out in ‘da Switch, round three of chemo, and one more thing… one VERY important piece of the treatment puzzle… I had my genetic consultation. Bear with me, I’ll explain.

I have always felt it important to have my genes tested: to know if the cancer was inherited due to a gene mutation, or environmental. It helps make the best, qualified decisions about treatment. Knowledge is power. My proposed treatment plan is as follows: six weeks of radiation to follow chemo or, if my genetic results show that it is a gene mutation causing the cancer, I will choose to have a double mastectomy, instead of radiation. Before someone overseas reads this and starts questioning me, this is based on Australian practice. I know patients in Canada still undergo radiation, even after having a double mastectomy. I’m grateful to be in Australia right now.

I was also extremely lucky – blessed – fortunate to get an appointment this week! My original appointment wasn’t until March 26. The timing was definitely not working in my favour. They wanted to start radiation at the end of Feb. I could see things getting tricky as it takes four to six weeks to get your results back after your blood test.

I asked, “How long can I delay radiation to get my genetic testing done. Would it be safe to delay radiation by a few months? Is that standard, or allowed practice?”

Still no answer! I put it out to the universe, with my positive thoughts (and I’m sure many prayers from mother and her church friends) that I would get an appointment earlier. And I did. Phew…My blood test is booked for Jan 28 and my follow up appointment to receive the results Feb 28. At this stage my “end of treatment” date should only be delayed by a week. Good: I’ve got things to do!

Enough about me; let’s talk about genetics.

I have pulled some information from the not-always-trusted, World Wide Web. It seems accurate, though:

Some people inherit altered genes that may predispose them to developing particular cancers. For example, a woman who has inherited a single altered copy of one of the specific breast cancer genes (known as BRCA1 and BRCA2) has a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer than a woman who inherited two normal copies of both genes. However, only around five out of every hundred cases of breast cancer may be due to an inherited genetic predisposition.

Confused?

Let me take it out of the scientific context to the real-life world:

Unless you’ve lived under a rock this past year, you probably heard that Angelina Jolie had a preventative double mastectomy. Due to her family history, she elected to be tested for the gene mutation. It showed that she carried the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Her decision was to undergo a “preventative” double mastectomy.

Her statistics of developing cancer by caring the BRCA1 mutation were as follows:

  • 87% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer
  • 40% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer

By having a preventative double mastectomy, her chances of developing breast cancer dropped to 5%! Now, for me, that’s a no-brainer.

Since I already have cancer, I only think in terms of reoccurrence. Armed with notebook and pen for my appointment, we made our way to the Wesley Medical Centre to meet with Dr Michael Gattas. Note: the notebook seemed like a wise addition after I put the ice-tray in the fridge that morning… clearly suffering chemo brain.

Here is a snippet of information provided by Dr Gattas…

Firstly, anyone under 40 who develops early breast cancer has a 10% chance of carrying the gene mutation. Not much, really. Also, it was interesting to learn that the BRCA gene mutation can come from either parent. There is always so much emphasis looking at family history on the mothers side: Did you mother have breast cancer? …Sister? …Grandma? …But interestingly, your father can pass down the BRCA mutation.

Commonly, people think that once you have a double mastectomy, you can’t get breast cancer again, wrong! I know this shocks most people. Even though most of the breast tissue is removed during the mastectomy, a tiny amount usually remains. Also, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation also affects your ovaries. If you carry the gene mutation, you have 30-40% chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer (before you’re 80). Wow. Lot’s to think about, not only for me; but my sister; and mother.

After chemo finishes, depending on my genetic results, I will happy go ahead with radiation, or back under the knife. It’s an easy decision for me, but I know others have a different mindset: I haven’t had a child, what if I want to breastfeed later in life? Dr Gattas also raised this point. He suggested some young woman whom receive a positive result for the gene mutation, will delay surgery until after having children. For me, this doesn’t seem wise. I am not supposed to have children for two or three years, or longer. Reoccurrence is higher in the first five years. I would rather give myself the upper hand as much as possible…but that’s just me.

I should probably finish the blog here, but I can’t sign off without giving a mini shout out about our first parkrun trial! Yes, I know you have heard me go on, and on about parkrun. It’s finally here. Some questioned the timing of the first trial; two days after chemo… No problem! With pills on hand, and an excessive amount of support, I wasn’t worried a bit. It was a small turn out; which in hindsight was a good thing. It went off without a hitch; technology included. All eleven runners enjoyed the course – hills and all.

After a post-parkrun breakfast with some good friends and cuddle with Baby Mia, a dash home to upload the data, it’s now time for a nap before my next outing of the day.

Three: It’s a magic number

This morning I woke up with a Jack Johnson song in my head: The 3 R’s. The opening line goes like this:

Three it’s a magic number
Yes it is, it’s a magic number

I don’t actually know the rest of the song, so all day I have been humming those two lines in my head. Why? Well, today was round three (officially / unofficially). I also squeezed in a 3 km run this morning and it’s exactly three months since my first round of chemo. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to numbers, which is surprising as I’m rubbish at mathematics. As you know, seven is not a good number for me. Let’s see how three goes.

Mother decided to show off her new baking skills and whipped up some sticky cinnamon rolls for the nurses and other patients. There is always a selection of treats and snacks on offer provided by a patient. Well, the rolls were an absolute hit! One elderly Dutch lady came over when she found out mother had made them.

“Are you European?”

“No, I’m from New Zealand.”

“I haven’t had anything this good in thirty-two years.”

The lady went on, and on, and on about the rolls to every nurse. Well done, mother. Unfortunately for me, the new combination of drugs makes me feel nauseous instantly. The only thing I can stomach is fruit or dry biscuits. No sugar-laden rolls for me.

Mother was also given a gift today. She’d won a prize in the Christmas raffle. Could the day get any better! As usual, I reluctantly walked over the scales to weigh myself. I took off my shoes this time (every bit helps!). 66.9 Kg. Woohoo! I weigh less than before Christmas, the day IS getting better and better. Next stop: Dr Oliveira. What is usually a quick five-minute chat to check my WBC levels, turned out to be a very interesting meeting. We were discussing my final treatment and she asked if I wanted to continue to use Zoladex for the next two years – Zoladex is the injection that keeps me in menopause.

“Why,” I enquired.

Apparently it’s not recommended to have a child within two years of treatment. That’s the first I have heard of this (research to follow..). Not that I am planning on having a child right now, but I hadn’t considered that it’s not recommended.

“I guess I have two years to train and race Ironman instead,” I justified.

As it turns out, my doctor is currently training for Ironman! I wish I had know this three months ago. I informed her I was about to register for (half) Ironman 70.3 before I was diagnosed.

“There are still spots available for the 70.3 in Cairns,” she informed me.

“When is it?”

“June.”

“June? That’s a bit soon, isn’t it?” I joked.

“Why not, you can train for it now.”

Did that really just happen? Did my oncologist just encourage me to train for Ironman. She agrees the more active you are, the easier treatment is, and the easier you recover.

“I love you.” Yes… I told my oncologist that I love her.

Now before everyone starts panicking that I am going to head out tomorrow and throw myself into a crazy training regime, relax. I know my limits. At the moment, I struggle running 5 km continuously. I’m not going to start training now for a half-marathon distance. I think I was destined to have her as my oncologist. The nurses, on the other hand, were a little stressed by her encouragement.

Next step: get set up in the chair. This morning I had my pick between chair 3 or 4. I decided to continue with my magic number of the day. Mother wasn’t impressed as chair 4 is ‘The Corner Suite’. I also realised that today is the 9th. 9 is divisible by 3. Sold.

I won’t lie, receiving the drugs is getting harder and harder. I knew it was going to be a tough day when I went TO the oncology ward feeling nauseous. I can no longer look at the bag of drugs, or watch them inject it through the IV. Thinking about chemotherapy, even the word, sends my gag reflexes into overdrive. I sat there patiently trying to think of anything but chemo. The lunch tray came around, no thanks! I stuck to my fruit and carrot sticks. Mother decided to try the sandwich and informed me it was tuna… TUNA *GAG*. I think it’s a bit mean of the hospital to send tuna sandwiches to the oncology ward. People already feel sick, don’t make it worse. The treatment passed without any hitches and I am back home resting in bed.

One more down…One to go.