I Shall Not Walk Alone

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I often wonder what my life lesson is in all of this. Why did I need to go through this? What could I possibly learn from all of this? One thing stands out more than anything else is to be grateful! Have a grateful heart for life, for our families, for our friends, for our financial situation, grateful for the love and support of our family and friends.

Stop and smell the roses and try not get caught up in this rat race we call life. Remember to give thanks to whoever it is you choose to prayer/connect with. For me its the Creator/Universe. A friend once told me to write down 3 things everyday that you are grateful for. And so I did and when I started it, it was the big things but as I progressed it was the simple things in life that I was grateful for. For instance the beautiful sunrise I watch every morning from my bed. It’s a fantastic exercise you should try it.

Having to have an MRI scan made me scared as all hell. I now know that the scan was so important as it gave us an in-depth look into both my breasts so we knew exactly what was going on. I was so nervous that my teeth were chattering, can you actually believe how pathetic I am ha ha. Again I had to face the dreaded needle which was so painful going in. I think they must have used a hose pipe today because my goodness I felt it go up through my arm (Ok well maybe not as bad at that 🙂 )

I had to lie on my stomach with my breasteses hanging between the two holes like a bunch of soggy mangos he he. “Mrs King we will ONLY be an hour” I almost choked. Only an hour, ONLY AN HOUR. Are they crazy; how on earth am I going to lie still on this bed like I am for an hour. I was so lucky as they allowed my husband to sit in the room with me at the top of the machine near my head. I was handed earphones and said they would be back in the room later on in the scan to administer the “contrast dye”.

And so we started, the noises that came out of that machine were so loud. All the different tapping noises going faster and slower and louder and softer. I felt like I was at a rave with all those sounds :). I was on that bed for what felt like the whole morning. They checked on me and said they would be in shortly to do the “contrast dye”. My saving grace was the calming voice of my husband asking every so often if I was all right and making small jokes to keep me smiling.

I heard the door open and the “contrast dye” was finally injected. “Are you ok Mrs King?” NO I WASN’T OK I WANTED THIS TO BE OVER “It will only be another 20 minutes” And click the door was closed. Through the whole process I had to take shallow breaths so during the quiet periods I had to take nice deep breaths otherwise I would have passed out. 20 minutes my butt. I was in that machine for another 30 minutes. I was having sense of humour failure…..

When I finally heard the door click and their voices fill the room, I was so relieved this was over. I was helped up into a sitting position and suddenly got vertigo from lying face down for so long. Taking deep breaths they began to take the drip needle out. Well as you all know by now I don’t do needles and along with that the sight of blood makes me feel light headed.

Slipping away from my story here to give you an example. My husband cut his foot open quiet badly once (the morning after a night away bulls party I have to add 😐 ) So by the time he made the hours trip from the south coast of Durban I was a nervous wreck, yes and there is a prime example of my brain working on over drive. I honestly thought his food would be dangling by a tendon but when he arrived there was no blood and everything seemed under control as the cut had been wrapped up with a tshirt by a friend of ours that was the Head Lifesaver back in the day. We were finally seen to and when the nurse cut the shirt off his foot the blood pumped out like a burst pipe. I felt the blood drain from my face and the nurse asked me if I needed to lie down in the room next door and they would attend to me. I obviously turned some shade of grey. Nothing that a bit of fresh air and a coke couldn’t sort out.

Sooooo back to the MRI room……………..
Something went wrong when they pulled the needle out. The blood started pouring from my vein. Down onto my thigh, soaking my designer gown, down my leg and inbetween my toes. Oh my giddy aunt WTF was happening. The vertigo I was feeling turned into a cold sweat. My grey face turned their calm demeanour into a slight panic telling me it’s fine I must worry they are sorting it out. When what felt like half my bodies blood had drained out of my arm was stopped it looked like I had been in a scene from Grey ‘ s Anatomy. I was offered wet wipes to clean it all up. I suppose if I walked out like that I may have scared the living day lights out of the next awaiting MRI victim 🙂

Generally reports take 3-4 days to compile and that would take us to yet another Monday morning. And sitting and waiting around over a weekend is just the most awful thing. But because I had made friends with the ladies from the mammogram and ultrasound side I was blessed with a text at 6pm on the Friday night to give me the very best news I could ever have hoped for “Hi Candice, we are still busy with your report but we didn’t want you to worry over the weekend. The “new lump” is nothing to worry about, nothing looks suspicious. Now relax and enjoy your weekend” The feeling of relief I felt, I felt like I had been winded but in a good way. All the tension left my body. OMW I was so happy.  I was all good to go for my op on the Tuesday. Lumpectomy here we come.

Around this time the Cancer Shave-a-thon was being held around the country and in support of my fellow cancer fighters, of the people who have won their fight and for people like my amazing mother darling who lost their fight, I went to have my head sprayed. Couldn’t shave it cause there was nothing to shave sadly :). My whole family joined in and sprayed their heads. I finally got to donate my hair I had cut right in the beginning and spoke to other cancer survivors that were there.

IMG-20150228-WA0008 My Aunt, My sister and My Grandmother

IMG-20150228-WA0007 Ali and myself (nice head don’t you think ha ha)

IMG-20150228-WA0002 And one of my other no. 1 supporters my little Maria

My children are so open about cancer and often say that pink is our new colour because its for breast cancer. And are always open to wearing cancer goodies or supporting in some way. Kirsten my friends daughter swam the Midmar mile in the pink drive cozzie in support of me. We went up to Midmar to support her. After the race we went to the Pink Drive stand and bought a whole lot of goodies. My kids loved the wigs.

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Cancer infiltrates your life in more ways than I could ever have imagined.

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Light at the end of the tunnel

I have been blessed with the most incredible support going through this. I haven’t had friends shy away from me or avoid me. I have had unwavering love and support and encouragement. I have had inspiration and motivation from everyone, family, friends and even strangers.

This is what keeps me on top of the game, this keeps my head above water and this keeps me positive and away from that very dark, very scary downward spiral.

My biggest fan and supporter has been my husband, Vince. He is one in a million. When my hair fell out and I had to shave it, he told me every day “Angel have I told you how much I love you today” or “Love I love you more than I did yesterday”

OK, OK enough with the soppy stuff and back to my story ha ha.

Round 3 knocked me for a 6, right out of the park 6. I was nauseous, felt off, felt sick, felt tired all at once and nothing I could do would help. This didn’t last the usual 5 days. I remained in bed from Monday until the Sunday where I dragged myself out of that bed and to the lounge. I was so tired of staring out into the garden or staring at my green cupboard or green curtains or just being alone in my bed feeling sorry for myself.

This time around it was a fight on all levels. I was physically weak, mentally I was fighting demons and emotionally I had broken down. Over and over I replayed in my head why I was feeling so sick, what had I done differently. It started freaking me how I was going to actually face another round of this. I don’t know if I could do it….How dare the process of how sick I feel change. Yes there is was that type A personality coming out. I had put this into its little boxes so I could cope with it all. I went and had additional blood tests done to perhaps see why this was like it was. I survived that week by the skin of my teeth….. My poor husband and sister had to keep working on me all week to keep the light shining in.

I was glad to see the back of that week and could enjoy 2 more weeks. We met with the surgeon to now plan my op. Wow I can’t believe we were at that point. How exciting…….

He also confirmed a considerable shrink in the size of the tumour and says my lymph nodes weren’t as pronounced. He confirmed that I could save my breast and have a lumpectomy which was amazing news. The only thing is the news I just received didn’t make me feel as happy as I expected. In our consultation we discussed what was still to come and the targeted therapy I was due to be on for the next 5 years. While he was talking my mind was running away with itself as usual thinking of the most ludicrous things. I wish my brain had a hand brake but it just has a full throttle accelerator.

The appointment continued where he explained that the day of my op I would need a wire marker placed into the breast under ultrasound or mammogram guidance. My golly really. The little scary cat in me came out and asked about 1000 questions that eventually he had to stop me and say “Mrs King don’t worry you will be fine and lets worry about that when it’s here”.

I walked out of the rooms and felt that dark looming cancer cloud that took back its residence over my head again. I was supposed to feel happy about the good news about the shrinking. I was supposed to feel happy that I had 1 more treatment to go and then I was a step closer to the end. Why was I feeling so down about it……….

I think I was looking to far forward. The thought of everything I still had to go through and I think I was overwhelmed by those thoughts. It was too much to handle. It brought me crashing down to the ground with a hard thump of reality. My best friend Ali is the one that calmed the demons this time around. We ran the Warrior race together last year and we just took each obstacle one at a time, bit by bit, chunk by chunk. She referred to this race and said this is the Warrior race all over again. Take each obstacle as it comes. 1 at a time.

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4 x Red Devils (3 down already)

1 x Operation

12 x Taxol

30 x Radiation

9 months, 4 paths, 3 different treatments, 1 op = LIFE!!!!!!!!

It’s a small price to pay, a small portion of your life in the bigger grander scale of things. Going through ALL of this means you get to live.

I AM A WARRIOR

I AM STRONG

I WILL SURVIVE

I CHOOSE LIFE

Round 4 was on us quicker than you can say supercalafragalisticexpialidoious ha ha ha. I was nervous as all hell as I really didn’t want to feel the way I did the last time. I told the doctor how hideous I felt and he said because I had, had such a good response with the treatment thus far he would be happy to look at a dose reduction. International standards apparently allow up to a 25% reduction without affecting the efficacy of the treatment. I didn’t know how I felt about this. Happy that with a dose reduction I possibly wouldn’t feel so terribly awful but I really hope by doing this we not giving this cancer a last big bad kick. He decided on a 15% dose reduction and off we were out the starting gates for the ABF of the strawberry daiquiri aka red devil.

I was done, done with the red devils, done with feeling hideous, done with being in bed for 5 days. It was now time to focus on the next obstacle in this warrior race.

At the last appointment with the surgeon a booking was made with Ethkwenini hospital for the ultrasound to confirm how the wire was going to be inserted and how much the lump has shrunk. So 10th March came and off I was to the hospital where I was going to have my op. For some reason my nerves where through the roof this morning. My hands were shaking that I couldn’t fill out the form properly. Changed into that designer hospital gown again and taken to the ultrasound room. The lady started scanning and was scanning and scanning and scanning and scanning. My heart started beating fast. What was going on………

Firstly she said she couldn’t find the titanium marker in my breast nor could she find the original lesion. OMG I felt like I was going to pass out from nerves. What do you mean you cant find the titanium marker, it can’t just vanish for heaven’s sake. Another lady was called and she scanned and scanned herself but this time it wasn’t in the same place at as the original tumour, which was at 2 o’clock on the breast. She was scanning at 12 o’clock and kept scanning there. There were quiet whispers between the 2 of them and when I asked what was going on I was told that I mustn’t worry they were just  checking something and perhaps needed the doctor to come have a look. At that very moment, that is when the panic took over, that cold shiver ran down my spine. Something was up and no one was telling me what was going on. I wasn’t stupid I had been through this before, I know how people are supposed not to say anything and calm you down but its their underlying tone, not quite convincing comments that make you wonder. The doctor never came. The doctor that was supposed to insert the wire on the morning of my op never came to confirm the ladies findings. Well I suppose all radiology places work differently. If it was Maxwell-Wedderburn Pat would call the doctor to confirm and she is a hell of an experienced sonographer.

I sat for an hour waiting for the report. An hour to allow those thoughts to run a mock in my brain, causing so much havoc I actually sat in the a waiting room full of people and the tears just poured from my eyes. I knew something wasn’t right. This was supposed to be a planning scan but something else had shown itself.

The minute I got my report I opened it straight away. I was supposed to see the surgeon at 1pm but couldn’t wait that long. And there it was that damn word, the world that makes your world start spinning at 1000km an hour. LESION FOUND AT 12 O’CLOCK.

I sobbed in my husbands arms in the middle of the hospital. I couldn’t have cared less if people were watching me. I was devastated. I had been to hell and back and had good results why on earth was this happening.

1pm came which was such a relief cause I was an emotional wreck. The surgeon said the words used in the report were in line with a description of a tumour. He tried to call the doctor that wrote the report as his report was not very descriptive and actually didn’t discuss what he was supposed discuss, which was whether I needed to have the wire insert via ultrasound or mammogram.

With this new information the surgeon recommend I have a MRI scan so we can be 100% sure what was on this report as if this was the case of a “new” tumour I would have to have a mastectomy. This was just great. It meant my op was to be pushed out 1 week and now I would have to endure yet another test/scan.

I made an appointment with our oncologist as I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He confirmed exactly what I thought. How does the chemo shrink the initial tumour so well yet allows another one to grow. How is this possible. Dr Narsai said it was highly unlikely for this to happen and also impossible for the titanium maker to disappear.

Gosh my poor emotions took a very large knock. I just had to keep reminding myself that this disease is dynamic. It’s not a case of take a pill and fix it. I do know how important all of these tests are just disappointed it has now delayed my op.

I suppose I am learning to deal with little curve balls that are thrown my way as we go along. I may not initially cope with them very well but have learnt to become more accepting. Teaching me to go with the flow a little more and relax that A type personality of mine.

Grateful Heart

It’s the smallest thing that pushes you just over the edge with the disease. A slight bump in the road that can throw you off-balance. And I really think it’s because you are trying so hard to be strong ALL OF THE TIME, positive ALL OF THE TIME that when something small goes wrong it is like someone has just pushed you under the water.

The most important part of receiving chemo is to make sure that your blood counts are at the right level. I got myself all mentally prepared to have chemo for round 2 and when I walked into the chemo suite I was told that my blood tests from the Friday were low and I must have them done again because they could have come up over the weekend.

I deflated like a balloon. I had mentally prepared myself for what was to come for the past week and to hear this news was a big blow. I was so emotional. Its kind of psychotic that you have anxiety of having chemo, then get bitterly disappointed when you bloods aren’t right and you can’t have chemo and then the relief and excitement of being able to have it. Made me feel a little crazy to be honest.

Ready and hooked up for round 2, my hubby and I decided to bring our kids through to see what it means when mom says she is going to have chemo. I have never doubted myself when deciding to do this as I think it is so important for children to be told the truth so they themselves can process what exactly is going on.

IMG-20150105-WA0009_resized oh look there is it my strawberry daiquiri aka red devil

I had shown them the IV line that connects in my chest through the port and the bags of chemo hanging oven my head. They didn’t ask too many questions but just looked at everything that was going on and taking place. I was given a beeeeeeeeg hug from them both and they quickly scampered off.

They have both processed what is happening in their own little ways. Things like “Mom so this week is your sick week so we can’t have any play dates” or “Mom is this week homework on the bed week”. They would take any opportunity to snuggle with me on the bed or read to me from the school reading books. So I guess I got to spend some serious quality time with them as they had my undivided attention.

Second round of the red devil was the same as the first; 5 days in bed, 1 day on the couch and then some form of normality started seeping its way through. The longing for normality is what I struggled with. My girls were due to start school Grade 1 and Grade 3 and I was so relieved that I would be able to see them into their new school year and not be sick in bed. I am not one to be sick or be in bed for long even when I get the common cold/flu. So I really did struggle with being bed bound and feeling so terribly awful.

Waking up every morning it looked like the dog had slept on my pillow. I was shedding faster than my lab in summer. I had patches all over and was told eventually by my hubby “babe you are looking manky lets just shave it with a razor”. I had decided to wear a scarf on my head for my children’s sake and I actually don’t know if I would have the courage to walk around with a completely bald head.

20150121_193052_resized My amazing hubby shaving my head

People are strange little creatures. You get those polite people who have a little sneaky look out the corner of their eyes and then you get those that give it the Full Monty of jaw dropping, turn around have a good look at the freak with no hair stare. And yes whether people say “oh but perhaps they were admiring you for your courage” mmmmmmm then I would much rather that person came up to me and said ” your are one brave lady” than make me feel like a freak of nature. I suppose now I have come to terms with people looking but initially it throw me off-balance.

The third round came fast and furious. But today I was to see the Oncologist Dr Narsai to see how everything was going and to re measure the tumour. Once again my bloods weren’t at the optimal level for chemo and I had to have them rechecked. I had another clinical exam on my breast, yip that means it was squished and felt up again. The news I go at that very moment made all the sickness, all the hours spent in bed, all the tears and missing out on important things so worth it. ” Mrs King there has been a very favourable response in the size of the tumour since starting the chemotherapy”. I almost jumped off the bed and hugged the man. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Only after 2 rounds of chemo sessions he had noticed a considerable shrink in the size of the tumour. I was over the moon. This was definitely one of the highlights of this process so far.

IMG-20150126-WA0000 And to top off my very good morning my bloods were good to go ahead with my 3rd treatment. The count down was on just get through this one and then 1 more little red devil to go.

Going through all the side effects is hard and I was just in the beginning stages of my treatment so I had a lot more to endure before the end. It’s all very scary and overwhelming at times and no crying or stamping of feet or begging or pleading to the universe is going to change the fact that I have to endure and go through all this treatment to make myself healthy again. So while I am going through this process I might as well make it as pleasant as possible as it’s a hell of a long road and nobody else can do it for me. The only way through this is with a little sense of humour and a smile on my dial.

Before each chemo I go into my room for a bit of quiet time and to say a prayer and each and every time I’m in there the thought of “YOU ARE PREPARING FOR WAR” comes into my mind. Big deep breaths, release the fear and off I go.

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It’s also to remember that there is a reason why we go through things in life, a great reason than we all realize. There is one thing for sure is going through this has made me stop dead in my tracks and reassess whats important to me and what’s not. You know that good old saying “DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF” gosh that hasn’t never been more prevalent to me as it is right at this very moment in my life. Having to be in bed for 5 days has really made me think about life and what I want out of it and what kind of person I really want to be. How important material things are because if you don’t have your health to enjoy things then what is the point. Seize the day, seize the moment, make the most of each and every day. And I don’t think people who have actually faced the possibility of death in the face truly understand what those words really mean. We all say them but do we all believe them. I may be generalizing here but yes I said seize the day before I got sick but now, now is the time I truly feel it and understand its meaning. Be grateful from deep down inside your heart for the important things we have like health, family, love, happiness, security and safety. Be careful not to judge or be judgmental of others as we are all walking our own journey’s in life and people are only doing the best they know how in their current situation.

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To live in your truth, being true to yourself. Letting our own light shine. A friend I went to school with endured her own life threatening experience and she posted something on Facebook that really hit home for me. Have a read:

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It is one of the most beautiful things I have read and touched my heart allowing me to really be who I am meant to be. So yes this journey is horrible and scary but it has allowed me to really realize what I am grateful for in this life beautiful life of mine.

Buzzcut Season

When you have cancer everyone has a story to share about someone close to them having or had cancer. While I listen with empathy I always wait with baited breath for the end of the story whether that person actually made it or not.

It is one of the hardest things to hear when going through this disease that someone who had cancer didn’t make it. For me it puts me in a spin and starts creating doubt in my mind. When you are told the only way to get through it all is by being positive, there is major merit in this. The minute you start getting into that dark down spiral this disease beats you. It is easier said than done as bad stories or seeing someone really sick makes it harder, never mind enduring what you are going through.  (ps: to those non cancer people please think long and hard about the story you want to tell of your aunties, cousins, nephews wife that had cancer that didn’t make it because it could be the undoing of the cancer person you are telling it to 😉 )

I managed to survive the week of red devil treatment and thank goodness was starting to feel a little bit better week one post treatment. As the days progressed I felt stronger and strong. Week two was great and felt almost normal. Thank goodness Christmas fell in a good week and I could enjoy Christmas with my family. Although this Christmas was the first one without my mom so there was a under lying sadness that day. Everyone felt the big gaping whole that was usually filled by my beautiful big energy loving mother. Despite this I know she was sitting on the cloud watching over our family.

So the dreaded hair lose cloud was hanging over my head. I was waiting for this big event to come. I was grateful I got to have Christmas with hair but knew that the time would come for it to fall out. I had mixed stories of it won’t fall out after the first treatment or it will or between day 8 – 16 it will fall out. So when day 8 arrived I would check every morning by tugging on my hair. I almost became obsessed with it. Gingerly wiping my face after a shower as not to wipe all my eyebrows or eyelashes off.

When day 16 came and went and my hair hadn’t fallen out I was concerned the treatment wasn’t doing its thing. What I did wake up with however was a very sensitive skulp. But low and behold on day 17 I got out of the shower after washing my hair ran my hand through my hair and out came a chunk of hair. I was alone that morning, my children had gone to St Lucia to visit their grandparents and my hubby had gone for a surf. I had willed this hair to fall out for 8 days and now that is was here this sadness and dreaded filled every part of my being.

IMG-20141230-WA0024  this is a little note my daughter Keira gave to me when my hair started falling out ❤

I thought I was prepared in every way possible for this, I knew it was coming and yet the shock of this was too much for my already very fragile emotional state to handle. I had a very big cry (in my family a cry with big loud sobs we call “chunk” or “chunking”) because as much as I wanted this day to come when it finally did I wanted to have my hair for 1 more day.

As the day went on it fell out more and more and so I decided to use the hair clippers and shave it. It was time for that buzzcut. The day we shave it was quite an emotional day. All these steps were making this situation more and more real. When I spoke of myself having cancer it almost felt like I was talking about someone else. It wasn’t me that had cancer, how was that possible, how did this happen so quickly. So shaving my hair just made it more concrete.

The man I married 10 years ago is the most incredible human being. He said he would shave my hair for me and in turn I must shave his as he would like to do this in support of me. My heart swelled with love and pride that we would do this for me. I love this man with everything that is in me. He is my rock and keeps me moving forward. Love you Vinnie King.

So we put a song on that had so much meaning for this time of our lives and we played it loud. Keira my daughter took a video for us while my husband took the clippers to my head. A big lump collected in my throat and big hot tears started pouring down my face as big thick pieces of my hair fell to the ground. Eventually big sobs turned into laughing as I couldn’t believe that I was actually doing this. Oh my word what would I look like. Never has my hair been this short but this was the right thing to do.

I then shaved Vince’s hair and I felt honoured to do so but surprised he trusted me with this duty as a good few years ago I shaved his hair and he looked like a mangey dog as there were big chucks of hair missing from his hair but I think I did a very impressive job.

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So there it was my buzzcut GI Jane look for however long those short little strands stay in my head.

Every year we celebrate New Years on New Years Day and this year my hubby was going to have a PINK New Years Day party. He wanted everything pink in honour of his wife. And so we did pink drinks, pink hair, pink shirts, pink zink, pink, pink, pink was everywhere. And in true form my amazing friends came to the party. A whole bunch of Vince’s friends shaved their heads for me and again felt so love and special that people would do this for me.

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After the festivities of Christmas and New Year were over it was time to face the reality of chemo. My next appointment was the 5th Jan 2015. My 3 weeks are broken up as follows: week 1 I am sick in bed, week 2 I am feeling stronger and can enjoy some normality in life and week 3 I have overload of anxiety because I have chemo the next week.

The aniexty this time around was not because of the unknown but of what I am about to face. I know I am going to feel hiddiously nauseous, I know I am going to have absolutely no energy and not want to get out of bed.

But I knew I had to be sick to be better so the only way up was through. At least I would be able to tick another 1 off my list

Little Red Devil

My first chemo date was booked 15 December 2014, this shit just got real. I don’t think I had a chance to even consider what I was about to face. It has been 2 weeks from diagnosis to my first chemo and it was a crazy run around of doctors, tests, scans and blood tests.

Because of the amount of chemotherapy I was due to get the doctor recommended I have a port put in. Oh my words it sounded scary but weighed up the odds as if I didn’t have a port I would have to have a needle stuck into my arm every time I had my 16 rounds of chemo in the end.

A port is like a donut plastic device put under your skin on your chest which is connected to one of the main veins in your neck. Yip in your neck eeeeeeekkkkkkk

I know this is a little freaky but I here are some images I found on the net to explain it better.

port                                         port 2

So basically every time you have chemo they connect the IV line with a needle on the end into the center of the “donut”. Not only did I have to have a port the doctor wanted a titanium marker inserted into the middle of the tumour. The reasoning behind this is if the chemotherapy shrinks the tumour to the extent that they can’t find it they will know at least where to cut.

So yes I was now the bionic woman, plastic devices and titanium in my body. Both procedures were done under local anesthetic. And yes I managed with both procedures. I won’t lie and say I was calm but I put those big girl panties on because either which way I had to have them done even if it was done with me kicking and screaming.

Monday 15 December had arrived. I hadn’t had time to consider what I was about to get myself into. I had been so busy running around. We arrived at the doctors rooms and I was lead into the chemo suite. My anxiety levels were through the roof and sitting in those chairs made me realize what I was about to face.

My treatment plan was as follows: for starters I was to have 4 rounds of Adriamycin aka red devil or as the chemo sisters so sweetly put it strawberry daiquiri. For mains I would have a Lumpectomy should my little cancer behave and get its butt kicked by the initial chemo, for dessert I would be treated to 12 rounds of Paclitaxel and for after dinner coffee 30 rounds of radiation.

That was like a year of my life……….. but honestly I needed to get my head in the game and realize that it’s a small portion of my life in the grander scale of things. I had been given the opportunity of life. I needed to put my head down and tackle this bit by bit. I need to do this for my hubby, my children, my sister, family and friends.

I CHOOSE LIFE. I CHOOSE TO LIVE. I CHOOSE TO FIGHT

And that is what it’s all about; you have to fight this fight. It’s not only a physical fight but a mental and emotional fight.  But I hadn’t realized this yet.

So I was lead into the procedure room where I was “hooked up” to the first bag. Sitting back in the chair I got the whole run down of the side effects and what I can expect going forward.

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I love the way the doctors and nurses are so diplomatic when they tell you these side effects and their favourite words are: it may cause…….  there’s a possibility of……… I am such a tell me how it is person but I would have to see for myself.

I was there for 4 hours. It does sound long but it actually went quickly. I was given my bag of nausea meds and sent on my merry way. I felt great actually. So my sister Carly and myself went to Gateway to do some Christmas shopping and grab a bite to eat. About 2 hours into our shop I started to feel fuzzy, I found it hard to talk, there were too many people and everything became suddenly very loud. I needed to get out of there and home to my bed.

Once home I fell asleep because that was the only way I could deal with how I was feeling. I woke up to the most hideous nausea. Oh my heavens above. I felt shocking. Even the slightest movement on the bed made me feel like I was in the sea.

Earlier I spoke of my incredibly supportive friends. Ali had arranged to have friends make dinner for us for the first 3 nights of every treatment. I was so grateful for this as I actually didn’t know how I was going to stand the smell of making food never mind being on my feet for longer than 5 minutes. They had also created a chat so everyone could be kept informed about what was happening with me as I went along my treatment. This was great as I didn’t have to reply to 100 messages but most importantly the encouragement I receive on a daily basis really helps me to get through the days that I am not feeling so well or emotionally strong. I am blessed to have such amazing friends in my life.

If I can compare the nausea to anything it would be like your worst hangover ever. Maybe the first time you went out after having a baby and you thought you were 18 again or the time your friend go engaged and you kept going even though you knew you were way over your limit or just that time that having 10 shooters after a night of drinking was the best idea ever. Yes you get the picture take that time and multiply it by 1000. The only difference here is there was no fun before hand, no story to tell, just that sick horrible nauseous feeling, that it doesn’t matter what you take or drink or eat if you can stomach it, that takes it away.

I spent 5 days in bed feeling like something out of the Walking Dead. I had visitors that when they came had to sit on my bed as I just couldn’t deal with being up right for longer than it takes to go to the toilet. Ali came to see me everyday and made me laugh and smile with her funny stories and thank goodness for this reprieve otherwise it would have been a very long and lonely 5 days.

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After day 5 I managed to move from the bed to the couch. That goodness for the change of scenery. What I struggled with the most was the lonely hours in between. Those quite times when the demon’s come out and play havoc with your mind and your emotional state.

My amazingly strong and beautiful friend Clair gave my hubby strict instructions to only allow me 1 pity party a session. When I first heard this I thought how cruel if I want to cry for days I’m going to do just that. But sitting here now there was so much merit in what Clair was saying. The emotional battle through this is so hard. Those demons conjure up all sorts of “what if” scenarios that wreak havoc in your life. But true to form on around day 4 I had my emotional breakdown.

The sadness that consumed me on that day was awful. I was sad for myself that I had to go through this. I was sad that I wasn’t present as a mother, that my children had to see me like this. Watching their concern on their little faces when walking in from school every day was hard. Having to put a smile on my face to say don’t worry my angels mommy is going to be just fine. Watching my hubby come in from work every day to ask “how are you my love” and to be answered with a “I am so sick” and watch him deflate not because he was upset with me but the hope that I would be feeling better and the sympathy in his eyes when I wasn’t. Having my amazing sister take care of me “nursing” me like she had just done for 7 months with my mother was so hard to watch. She has been unbelievably supportive, caring and thoughtful. She stepped up when she was needed and filled the space that I was not present in anymore. I love you Carly and thank you for everything that you have done and are doing (gosh tearing up just typing that)

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Remembering what Clair had told us Vince was ready to end my pity party for 1 in 1 fell swoop. “Love cry if you need to cry but this is the last pity party for this month”. Gosh through the sobs that made me laugh. Lying in that bed with my soul mate sitting next to me we laugh and giggled at our pity party situation.

Thankfully by Saturday I was feeling some sort of normal and ventured out to a braai. It was great to be doing something normal and not sitting and wallowing in my bed. It was Christmas time after all and I wanted to be a part of the festivities that normally happen over this time.

I had now experienced my first round of chemo and what that all entailed. I had experienced the side effects listed as “you may experience……..” and so my journey began. Scared as all hell but ready to fight my fight.

Lets Get This Party Started……

Seems I am on a roll with this blog and obviously channeling those writers I hoped would inspire me.

Knowing that my hair would fall out I was toying with the idea of cutting it. My hair was long just under my shoulder blades. Long, thick, slightly wavy hair. Some people said I should just shave it to a number 2 straight away. I thought that might be a little drastic as I would be hairless for a while (oh deary me I had a vision of those hairless cats OMG ha ha how awful)  Perhaps a short cute pixie cut would be the first step.

I have had long hair my whole life so the step to cutting it really short was a big decision for me but it out weighed the emotional strain I would go through pulling chunks of my long hair out in the shower. So I took that bold step and cut it short.

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Sitting in that hair dresser chair the lady cut my ponytail off as I had decided to donate it to the Cancer association for wigs. It was quite an emotional experience for me and I cried my heart out while this was happening. I was supported by my husband, girls and sister holding a space for me as I took this first step in my very long journey.

I received so many compliments about how nice my hair looked and how nice it was to have short hair when it’s so hot and I just smiled and thanked people as nobody knew that deep down inside the cutting of my hair was the start of my treatment process.

CT scan day finally arrived and as I lay there with my hands above my head and a needle (eeeeekkkkkkk) in my arm sliding through the donut shaped x-ray machine, I remember thinking that this would be the first of many needle pricks and procedures I will have to go through. That I really need to toughen up a little and really grow up now. I was a big girl and needed to put those big girl panties on.

I went as far as googling if there was such a thing as needle phobia’s well you won’t believe what I stumbled across, a whole website dedicated to this defined medical condition believe it or not. It actually has its own ICD10 code and affects 20 – 23% of people who will actually avoid seeking medical attention due to this phobia. http://www.needlephobia.com and if you are one of these people you are called a TRYPANOPHOBE. Ha so there it’s not all made up in my head. But I a pretty sure after all of this I will be “cured” of my phobia.

Sitting in the doctor’s office panic had taken over. My heart was racing and all I wanted to know was that everything was going to be okay. When the doctor read out the report from my CT scan I held my breath and when he said there were no other signs of cancer anywhere the breath out was such a sigh of relief I almost huffed and puffed and blew the doctor over.

I now had to meet my surgeon. Date was booked and with my new hair cut I strode into his office with all the confidence in the world. T2N1M0 I knew my status and so this appointment would be a walk in the park. T meaning Tumour/stage, N meaning if it’s in the nodes and M meaning whether it had metastasized.

Dr Reddy was your typical surgeon using big fancy words that went straight over my head but I listened intently as he explained the workings of the female breast. Like I have mentioned before your dignity takes a knock through this whole process. The yearly pap smear has nothing on having different people coping a feel of your breast at every visit.

And so Dr Reddy now had his turn to do his clinical exam. This would be the 3rd person  inspecting my breasts. After his clinical exam he went on to explain what his finding were. The tumour was not 2cm x 4cm as Dr Narsai’s finding but rather 5cm x 5cm. My heart sunk, my confidence I had when I walked in hit the floor. That dark grey cloud that found residence over my life had moved back over and hung heavily over my head.

“So look here Mrs King your cancer is no longer stage 2 but stage 3 and so when we do the mastectomy………” All I saw was his mouth moving and a piercing blooooooooooooop filled his voice.

No, no, no this wasn’t right. I was to have a lumpectomy that’s what Dr Narsai said. I get a chance to save my breasts. I am going to have chemo first that’s what he said to reduce the tumour size. I can’t lose my breasts I’m only 33. 

My eyes started stinging, hot large rain drop tears fell into my lap and I let out a big sob. The doctor finally looked up from his page he was drawing on  “Mrs King oh no Mrs King don’t cry now” I hadn’t heard a word he had said as I was flooded with emotions.

Composing myself I asked if he could please explain again why I didn’t have a choice. He continued to draw on the piece of paper saying in his findings the tumour was bigger, he was also suspicious of other lumps in the same breast and a lump in my right breast. I did explain that I had my period and during this time my breasts were always lumpy and bumpy but he didn’t seem too convinced. He explained that because my breasts were so small (yes another blow to the ego ha ha) the chances of being able to take the tumor out without being disfigured was almost impossible.

Walking out of his offices I felt like a deflated balloon. The sadness had seeped its way back into my life and the weight on my shoulders had just increased. I needed to pull myself towards myself and realize that if I needed to have a mastectomy it was to save my life. Not messing around with this disease. I needed to trust my doctors and they would guide me down the right path. So if I needed a mastectomy that’s what would be done.

And if for 1 second you may be thinking but whats the matter with that you get a new set of boobs, well it’s not that simple. It’s not a new set of boobs its round balloon mounds that can only be reconstructed 18 months after treatment has finished where you will have anything connected to breast tissue taken out including your nipple. Sitting here now I take my hat off and admire the woman who didn’t have a choice and had to experience this scenario. You are brave, strong and beautiful.

I needed to confirm, Dr Reddy, my surgeons clinical findings with that mammogram I was not allowed to have originally. I decided because of my bad experience where I had my original biopsy done I would use another radiologists. Dr Maxwell-Wedderburn was the place I would go. I am so happy I took that bold step to change. The women in this practice are phenomenal. Sensitive, caring and make you feel comfortable in a very stressful situation.

So I changed into my beautiful designer hospital gown and waited for my turn to have my boobs fondled yet again and squished between 2 pieces of plastic. Bronwyn boob fondler number 4, yes you have that right, took me into the examination room and carefully took my left boob in her hands and placed it on the plastic “plate” in the correct place. Being my first mammogram I didn’t know what to expect. Well let me tell you something I never ever knew a boob could take on that shape. Long flat piece of skin sticking out in front of me. Really kinda gross but not a painful as I was imagining.

I had to have an ultrasound on top of the mammogram because yes my breasts were dense and so they needed to confirm their findings. The ultrasound was confirmed by the doctor and I was off on my merry way.

I now had to wait yet again for these results and the fear that fills every space of your being while waiting for results is almost unbearable. My mind works at 100km’s per hour, conjuring up all sorts of scenarios that couldn’t even be possible. When I went back to see Dr Reddy my surgeon he confirmed that what Dr Narsai the oncologist had originally found was correct. There was no other signs of cancer in either breast just the original tumour.

YES I thought!!!! Now I finally know what I am dealing with. 1 tumour and few lymph nodes I can do this!!!!!

No Yellow Brick Road

Its 11:55pm and I am enjoying the ever so sleeplessness of the steroids that were pumped through my body today. So I have decided to write my blog instead to pass away these lonely hours.  I only got inspiration to write this blog 70% into my treatment before this I was journaling which is just as cathartic (Pauline 🙂 ) I suppose as writing this blog.

Like I mentioned in sharing my story I hope to create a space for woman like myself not to feel alone and not to feel that having a breakdown is bad because its our right of passage through this very scary road.

So back to my story. it was 3 December 2014 1:30pm I got to finally have my appointment with my oncologist. I must say I feel very blessed in this regard. When trying to find a good oncologist for my mom it was like picking names from a hat. The first oncologist we went to who initially we thought was fantastic ended up being terrible. He was never around always away and made us feel like our questions were stupid to say the least. For around 2 months after our initial appointment I would say we actually didn’t know what was going on with my mom. It took a trip to hospital where we nearly lost her for us to make the decision to change doctors which we had been ummming and aaahhhhh about for a while.

The reason why I share this is the very most important part of having cancer and having to go for treatment is you HAVE to trust your docotor 100% no questions asked. Your life is in his/her hands. It may take awhile to realize this and don’t be like me where I felt bad changing my mom’s doctor just do it.

So when it came to selecting a doctor for myself Dr Narsai was the doctor I would go see. He was the second doctor we saw with my mom and it was like chalk and cheese I tell you. He is soft spoken, listens to your questions and answers them using the medical terms but then goes on to explaining it in layman’s, you are not rushed and get to ask all your questions no matter how silly they may seem.

I had mixed emotions about this appointment. I felt fear and dread about going to hear my fate and also so honestly relieved that we would actually hear what I have and what our plan is. I am that type A personality so there must be a plan so I can place those thoughts that were running a mock in my brain into neat little boxes so I could comprehend what was going on.

And this is exactly how the appointment went. I was diagnosed with stage 2 grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with signs of Lymovascular invasion.

Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. This type of cancer forms in the lining of a milk duct within your breast. The ducts carry breast milk from the lobules, where it’s made, to the nipple. Ductal carcinoma can remain within the ducts as a noninvasive cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ) or it can break out of the ducts (invasive ductal carcinoma).

The results from my biopsy showed that I was estrogen positive and progesterone positive but HER2 negative. So what this all means for me is ER + & PR + means I will have to go onto a targeted therapy at the end of this for 5 years; this is a anti-estrogen therapy.  HER2 is a growth promoting protein that is over expressed if the results come up as HER2 +. Its not that bad to be HER+ but preferably HER2- is better.

Stage 2 referring to size and if it has spread and grade meaning the aggressiveness of the tumour. Mine was fast growing.

The best thing we had heard in the last 3 days was that the cancer I have is very treatable and has high success rates. The relief I felt in my body at that very moment was indescribable. It was the first time in 3 days that I actually smiled. But as with this disease its not a linear treatment plan. Take a pill and get better. Its dynamic and forever changing. Cancers have personalities and so each and every step of the way things are re-evaluated.

Right I thought that went better than expected and asked when I could start treatment. Of course its not that simply Candice (dynamic, dynamic, dynamic) We obviously had to get medical aid to approve which took a week or so and I would require a CT scan to complete the staging. What staging but what does this mean. You have told me its stage 2…………. 

Oh no there was that fear again, anxiety pulsating from my solar plexus, fear running down my legs, my jelly legs, blood drained from my face as I asked more about this CT and what it entails. Again I am a big baby for needles and procedures.

I would have to have a CT scan to confirm that the cancer hadn’t metastasized meaning spread to any other major organs. But again I had to wait for the medical aid to approve that before I could have it done.

Walking out of the doctors rooms I had a range of emotions. Relieved that I had those neat little boxes of information stored away in their right place but keeping those panic dragons low key for as long as possible but at this present moment we didn’t actually know how bad my situation was until we had done that CT scan.

I think the medical aids must have a identification system for clients that are like bull dogs. That will fight the system every step of the way and I am very proud to say that I am that person. I had 7 month long fight with them for my mom and learnt so much about approvals, motivations, PMB’s, onocology packs that when it came to my time around I knew exactly how to handle this.

If you don’t ask questions boy and just accept things for what the call centre agents say you will be out of pocket. I pushed that approval for the CT along that I must have had a record approval time ha ha.

I was not in this disease alone. Cancer is not something someone who has it does on their own. Family and friends are affected by it. So when we came home from the doctor I had to tell my girls why I had been so emotional for those 3 days. This has been one of the hardest steps of this whole process. Maria only being 6 and not really knowing if she would really understand what I was saying and Keira my softie perhaps internalizing this too much.

Anyway I had to put my mommy panties on and break the news. We have always been honest with my girls. Even when my mom was so sick in those last few days I even went to the point of saying the angels may come and get Grandi (our name for granny as her name was Di and she said she was too young to be a granny. She was also too young to become an angel). When we told the girls; Keira my eldest went very quite and I almost saw her recoil back into her self. No questions she just sat there and listened to what we said. Maria in her innocence asked if I was going to die. I almost choked at this comment but it was so understandable that she asked this because all she knew about cancer was what she had witnessed with my mom. We explained that mom would be sick for a little while but I had to get sick to get better. We told them there will be days I won’t get out of bed and eventually my hair will fall out. Keira asked if I would come to school to pick her up with no hair and when I tried to make a joke over it she almost went into a state of panic. I explained I would wear a scarf on my head or even a wig but we would cross that bridge when we get there. Maria carried on with life as normal but Keira became very withdrawn for about 2 weeks not saying much or asking questions. Almost avoiding me in away. She has come a long way since then and has become more accepting of everything even making her own jokes every so often which is a good sign too me. Maria on the other hand loves making jokes over my bald head or walking past a bald manikin in the shops and saying look mommy theirs your friend. Thank goodness for my children cause they really do make you want to fight and fight with everything you have in you.

We have quite a large group of friends that have all had their fare shares of hardship and I witnessed it once before when one of our close friends lost their daughter in a car accident. I have never been so devastated as I was that Sunday when I got the call.

When we went to their house it was buzzing with people making coffee, washing dishes, getting lunch and just giving that family the love and support they needed but it didn’t stop there. We rallied together to make dinners for them and that went on for sometime. I was so taken back by the love and support and the coming together of all the friends to assist with things in the best way we knew how.

And in my case I got to be on the receiving end of that love and care. After seeing the oncologist we had a bunch of people arrive at the house to show their love and support and 1 person in particular is a very dear friend of mine that has been through this whole process. She came to give her love and support and I know having to revisit this whole process again after she had just fought her fight really meant the world to me and Clair if you are reading this I want the whole world to know that you are my inspiration. You have tackled your process with such bravery and a big bright brilliant smile on your face. You managed to laugh at yourself and be brave enough to share your stories with me and calm the panic. And I love you and thank you for that.

Sadly there is no Wizzard of Oz to wave his magic wand and make this all go away. I have to walk this very scary road, go through all the treatment, hair loss, nausea, blood test and repeat chemos, op, radiation to be better. There are no short cuts in this life changing experience, no yellow brick road. A road paved with fear, illness and pain, pain within yourself and watching the pain of your family.