Christmas with cancer

December 21, 2017

As we approach Christmas - my second with cancer in my life - I find myself looking back to this time last year.

 

In December 2016, I was nearing the end of a gruelling 18-week chemotherapy regime and as a result, I was devoid of energy and incredibly tired.

 

Fast forward a year and it’s quite a different story.  My energy levels have returned - not fully, but a marked improvement on last year. 

 

However, the reserves have been depleted as a result of a hectic social life and demanding work agenda in December, so find myself once again tired and in need of rest.

 

Last year, a scan just before Christmas revealed no evidence of disease (NED) so I was able to enjoy a cancer-free Christmas and I entered 2017 full of cancer-free hope. The chemo had nuked the bastard and the plan was to revert to enjoying life once again, building up my strength and energy, so I could travel and work as I had done pre-cancer.

 

2017 started with a much-needed, restorative week in the sun in Lanzarote and I took the rest of the month to psych myself up for starting work again.  

 

In February, I resumed my duties as a virtual assistant, easing myself in gently with part-time working, but with renewed enthusiasm for my work especially for my client Cancer52, the rare and less common cancer charity, which took on new meaning as a former patient of a less common cancer.

 

The euphoria was short lived however, as in March 2017, a 3-monthly blood test revealed an elevation in the marker CA125 and a subsequent scan showed the beast was back. The choices offered to me were:

 

a) watch and wait (why would I do that?);

b) a further round of chemo (yes, zap the bugger); or

c) surgery (not an option only 9 months following major surgery).

 

So in April 2017 , I embarked on my second round of chemotherapy, a less intense routine, every 3 weeks, but energy-zapping and toxic nevertheless.

 

My oncologist had been frank with me - as the cancer had returned so quickly, I had to accept that I now had a chronic long-term condition which was manageable and treatable, but cancer would almost certainly be a prominent feature of my life.

 

This time, rather than take a sabbatical as I had during the first line of chemo, I continued to work.  I vacated my home office on the top floor of my house and relocated to the the comfort of the sofa, where I could rest when needed.

 

The prince and I managed a few short breaks to fit in with the chemo regime - in April, we spent a few nights at the beautiful Vieux Castillon (the location for the First Dates Hotel) in the South West of France for my birthday.

 

In May, we revisited a favourite resort, Puerto Pollensa in Mallorca as guests of my aunt and uncle, where we ate and drank to our hearts' delight.  Both were incredibly restorative trips.

 

I was fully prepared for the next scan to show merely a stable situation but once again, the chemo seemed to have done its job and I was showing no evidence of disease. The plan was to continue with Avastin, a maintenance therapy, every 3 weeks.

 

At the end of July, I celebrated this news with another trip to Mallorca to stay with my adorable cousin, along with my sister and best friend. The energy levels were still somewhat depleted but the warm weather, sunshine and Mediterranean food and drink were just what the doctor ordered (metaphorically speaking).

 

Then in August, following a few days in Berlin, I underwent a minor leg op, which I really could have done without, which rendered me once again pretty immobile whilst I waited for the wound to heal.

 

Although Avastin has relatively few side effects, one major one is that is slows down the body’s healing process.  The wound was checked weekly and the nurses dismayed at the lack of healing. So, on the advice of the Fairy Oncologist, I took a break from Avastin and hey presto, with a wave of a magic wand, the wound began to improve.  Even so, four months on, it is still not fully healed and I am still enduring weekly dressing changes.  

 

As I am living with cancer, not wanting to leave me without any medication, I am now taking Tamoxifen, the hormone therapy drug normally associated with breast cancer patients. Of course, as a BRCA1 carrier, with a high risk of breast cancer, this new drug reduces that risk as well as hopefully keeping the ovarian cancer at bay.  Win-Win...

 

So, as I head towards my second year with cancer in my life, I am looking forward to a second Christmas since my diagnosis, but I still face another uncertain year ahead of me.

 

Of course, everyone has an uncertain future, not knowing what is around the corner, but most expect to live well into old age. My future, on the other hand, is tinged with a tad more uncertainty than most. I have a condition which may be my demise but equally, the way I see it, something else may get me before that. o 

 

As with many cancer patients, I live from scan to scan, my life is sliced into three-month chunks and as much as I would like to plan further ahead, it would be foolhardy to do so.  Once again, my oncologist is pragmatic and encourages me to make plans and advocates quality of life where any future treatment will be planned to fit in with my lifestyle and plans as much as possible.

 

I remain positive and hopeful - but realistic - about my future. I am likely to face a recurrence and consequently, more chemo, next year and beyond.  I am fortunate there are many more treatment options which may be made available to me - PARP inhibitors and immunotherapy to name two. I am sure there will be more disappointment to tackle but I will ensure it will be balanced by plenty of joy too.

 

There will be plenty of joy - 2018 marks a big year for me, as I will be celebrating my 50th birthday and I fully intend to celebrate hard.  I am also planning to spend more time in Spain - one of the many benefits of being a home-based worked is that my home-base can be anywhere in the world, wifi connection permitting.  We tested out that theory in November and gave it the big thumbs up, so that is where I will be found in February and May 2018.

 

And my New Year''s resolution for 2018?  Well, that's simple:

 

TO LIVE

 

Metaphorically, to live life the fullest my health and finances permit...and literally, to stay alive to see in another Christmas!

 

Have a magical Christmas and a very sparkly New Year.

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