Monday, December 31, 2012

What A Year!

They say God never closes one door but He opens another - well, that's exactly what the year 2012 has been for me.

The year didn't get off to a great start with me having being recently diagnosed with breast cancer then facing surgery and treatment but by mid-summer the door was truly opened with the wedding of our eldest son making hubby and I the proudest, happiest parents in the world!  I couldn't have asked for a lovelier daughter-in-law, we get on fabulously.

Christmas has been extra special for me this year for many reasons, and you know what? - the best has yet to come, more about that in the New Year!

I just want to say a quick Thank You to all of you who were so supportive to me through your lovely comments during the year.

I wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful 2013!!!!


Above image: St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, taken by me, September 2011.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Julia

The subject of the lines below is a lady who was very much part of my early and later life.   At difficult times she always seemed to be there, a warm shoulder to lean on.  Her presence during one very painful life event helped me more than she'll ever know.  Amazingly, her voice has not altered with time, which for me is magic because when I hear her speak, I'm once again that little girl, so excited at being in the company of someone who is very special to me.  It's been a few years since I heard that voice, so before this year is out, I intend to right that.  Meantime, this is for you, dear cousin.



Julia


My newest mother is peering down the Brownie camera lens
while I, in your arms, scowl at the box.
I'm two and a half years old
And not used to having my photograph taken.
My newest backyard is still an unfamiliar playground,
But safe within your arms, the strangeness holds no fear.

I'm eight years old,
It's dark, you hold my hand as we descend the cast-iron steps to your underground workplace.
I've never been in a canteen,
My eyes and ears absorb the sights and sounds of tea trays being delivered through little wall hatches
And the merry chatter of people enjoying their evening meal.

I feel certain it's the same evening, you take me to a big house,
Up the stairway to a room where both cheery mother and bustling brood welcome us with lively banter.
I love being here.
I protest at leaving the joyful spirit of this tenement lodging.

I'm ten years old,
I wait at the corner of our avenue on balmy summer Friday nights.
You bring sixpenny bars of chocolate, that's all I remember.

I'm twelve years old,
You arrive to our house every few weeks with your first-born daughter
In her magnificent high pram with the rose on the side.
I get to wheel her up the avenue.   I get to hold her.
I want to be a mother like you.

I'm seventeen years old,
I'm living with your Mam and Dad.
I don't see you as often as I'd like
But I see your first-born daughter some week-ends.

I'm forty five years old,
You hold me in your arms as I grieve the loss of my not-so-new mother.
She had her problems but she was a good mother.

I'm forty nine years old,
We hold each other as we grieve the loss of my not-so-new father.
He had his problems but he was a good father.

We're both older mothers now.
I don't see you at all.
I want to hear your voice again.
I want to hold you and feel your motherly arms around me.
I want to savour the chocolate bars one more time.


© Ann Brien 2012


Above image:  Me, taken by Julia in my backyard, 1954.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Too Cold For "Piggybeds"

I'm not quite sure what it is about this time of year but I find myself yet again wanting to describe a winter memory as I experienced it during my childhood in Ringsend, Dublin.   I pray all these  memories I will carry with me to the end of my days, and with some luck, into the next life.

How wonderful it would be if we could transfer our happy recollections into our childrens' minds for them to glimpse what life was like for a child in the 1950s and 60s long before street games were replaced by sitting at a computer monitor where the only physical movement is that of your fingers on a keyboard and the periodic clicking of a mouse.   I suppose it has something in its favour, perhaps the children of today have a level of mental fitness that we could never achieve, but Boy, were we physically fit as fiddles!

Below is a little piece I wrote when remembering the other day, the winter's evening my friends and I had been playing "piggybeds" (a kind of hopscotch) at the end of my avenue and when it became too cold, they went home.

I, of course, with my goulish fascination for bleak winter nights remained in the avenue for a while in the hope that a storm-force wind would suddenly blow up and then I'd also get to hear the eerie fog-horn which always excited and terrified me at the same time!


Too Cold For "Piggybeds"


The street lamp casts its amber glow upon the eight-squared white chalk pattern,
A dirt-filled polish tin lies abandoned just outside square four, its abrupt end to play, the consequence of frozen fingers.
Mesmerised by the bleakness of this November evening,
My gaze begins its long fix on nature's tapestry;
The fog-shrouded moon,
The navy clouds, their wispy pink tendrils trailing off in zig-zag directions and, across the road,
The ink-black Liffey as she rhythmically pounds the sea wall.
Enveloped in the freezing mist
My thoughts now turn to bright red flames leaping in our living-room hearth,
And so, without much inner persuasion, I place the long-discarded "piggy" in the safety of neighbouring hedgerow,
Then make my way homeward to the promising comforts of warm hands and Irish stew.


© Ann Brien 2012


Above image: My avenue, taken by me, July 2011 (hedgerow to right still in existence!).

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Terraced Lives

Every so often, in fact, very often, I browse through the photographs I've taken over the years, and the ones that I linger over the most are those of my beloved hometown of Ringsend, Dublin.

This particular image I took of my avenue shortly before I left in the summer of 1969. As I stared intently at the houses facing onto one another, side by side in a straight row, they looked like dancers waiting for their musical cue to move forward. I believe houses hold memories. I tried to imagine how many family situations made their way through the wallpapered walls of the neighbouring houses, our neighbours on both sides were placid to the extreme.

As I'm fascinated by rooftops I'm so happy to have captured the avenue back at a time when huge TV aerials were essential if you wanted to view television channels from across the water, namely, the BBC and UTV. We didn't have one so made do with Radio Telefis Eireann, great programmes they were too!  Below are my few words of tribute to a time gone by.


Terraced Lives

Like stone-faced dancers
The houses face each other.
Conjoined bricks and mortar hold within them secrets of the dwellers
And, through faded creamy rosebud paper, sounds from distant rooms.
Like grotesque mosquitoes hung in time
Steel grey aerials stand tall against the darkened skyline,
Their rooftop vantage serving the human need to look beyond its own wretched life
Onto an imagined brighter landscape.

© Ann Brien 2012


Above image: Cambridge Avenue, Ringsend, Dublin taken by me, May 1969.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Remembering Norma Jeane
























I wasn't quite eleven years old when the body of Marilyn Monroe was found in the early hours of August 5th, 1962, in her Los Angeles home. Dead at the age of just thirty six. I vaguely remember the newspaper headlines and all the commotion at the time but what I vividly remember is seeing the many images of this truly beautiful blonde-haired woman whose eyes held you captive with their dreamy softness and that perfectly formed mouth.

Eleven years later those same photographs were to once again draw me like a magnet to Marilyn, not only because of her great beauty, but this time, sitting in my Dublin bed-sit, I'd just read about her tragic early life in The Sunday Times Magazine, 7th October, 1973. Some of her pain I could identify with.

During the early 1970s I was doing a bit of photographic modelling and sometimes during a shoot I'd pretend I was Marilyn, I felt inspired by her.  As I'd wanted to be an actress since I was twelve years old I promised myself that if I ever succeeded in fulfilling that dream, Marilyn would again be my inspiration.

Maybe the cause of her death will never be determined but I'd like to think it wasn't murder or suicide.

Famous Marilyn Monroe Quote: “I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.”  That told 'em!

Goodbye, Norma Jeane, you are in the hearts and minds of people today, you always will be. Rest In Peace.





Top image of Marilyn via www.telegraph.co.uk
Centre image via The Sunday Times
Bottom image, my photoshoot 1971-1974

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Maeve Binchy - Storyteller Extraordinaire

I was a late comer to the writings of Maeve Binchy.  In fact, it wasn't until the summer of 2006 that I read a whole bunch of her short stories during a long, hot, holiday in the South of France. Reading through each narrative I became increasingly aware of Maeve's great ability to touch the very soul of the reader with her heart-warming and sometimes, quite painful outcome of the characters you got to know so well, you were deeply affected by it. For me, that's the sign of a great storyteller.

Maeve was the author of sixteen novels, two of which were later made into TV films (The Lilac Bus and Echoes). Three others, Circle of Friends, Tara Road and How About You were made into feature films. She also wrote four collections of short stories, a play, Deeply Regretted By and the novella, Star Sullivan.

It was while working in the Irish Times London office during the early 1970s that she began writing fiction and where she would meet her husband, Gordon Snell. Her first novel, Light A Penny Candle, was published in 1982 and remained in the Top 10 charts for fifty three weeks.

My favourite Maeve Binchy quote in which she once said of her female characters "I don't have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks".  Wow!

On Monday evening, 30th July, Maeve Binchy aged 72, died peacefully in hospital after a short illness with her husband, Gordon and sister, Joan at her side. Her funeral service took place this morning in the Church of the Assumption, Dalkey attended by hundreds of mourners from near and far.  This was a lady so much loved, not only for her great gift of storytelling, but for the lovely person she was. She will be sadly missed.

Our Taoiseach, Enda Kenny in his tribute to Maeve on Tuesday said: "Today we have lost a national treasure...."  We're all with you on that one, Enda.  Rest In Peace, Maeve.


Above image of Maeve Binchy via www.irishtimes.com
Church of the Assumption, Dalkey taken by me on 26th July 2012

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Ireland's Little Bay of Naples - A Day In Killiney

Last Thursday morning started off with warm sunshine and a clear blue sky.  Not having experienced much of that this summer I decided it would be the perfect day for a trip to Killiney, the lovely seaside resort in south County Dublin.

At around mid-day, hubby and I got the bus into town, then the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), our wonderful train service which travels along our Dublin Bay coastline, to Killiney Station. After walking the full length of Killiney Beach we then sat on a rock to munch on our bananas and Hula Hoops, washed down with, by then, warm bottled water. I was in seventh Heaven!

We had planned on walking the hour long journey back to Dalkey village but en route decided to take in Killiney Hill.  The climb was breathtaking in every respect!  Half way up I really did think I wouldn't be able to make it, I was completely out of breath and gasping like a set of asthmatic bagpipes!  I knew hubby would have been disappointed and I definitely had to prove to myself that this was well within my capability, so onward I struggled.  It was worth every wheeze as the images convey.

A couple of hours later we arrived in Dalkey village where we revived ourselves with coffees in The Queens Bar and Restaurant in Castle Street.  Afterwards, headed to the DART station where we only had a few minutes to wait for the train back to the city centre.  As it was 5.30pm and right in the middle of evening rush hour we strolled around town then met up with our youngest son for dinner in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, my favourite haunt.  All in all, a lovely day out.




















All above Killiney/Dalkey images taken by me.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Forgiveness

This afternoon I was browsing through an old shoebox containing bits and pieces from as far back as the mid to late 1990s.  I was amazed to find a piece of paper on which I'd written down my then feelings towards my adoptive mother.  It was a poem I called "Forgiveness" and dated a couple of years after her passing in 1996.  Thankfully, as a result of many years of therapy during the late 90s, in which I dealt with those feelings, no trace of that anger remains.

Mum loved me very much. I will always miss her.



Forgiveness

It can't have been easy for you
I know that now.
There came no reassuring touch or words of comfort as you fought the demons which raged within you
Instead, you unleashed those howling beasts upon a helpless child who could not understand your fury.
They frightened me, damn you
Still, it can't have been easy.

© Ann Brien 2012


Above image taken by me in Allihies, West Cork, February 2011.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"With This Ring......" I'm A Mother-In-Law!

It's a little over two and a half months since I finished my radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer and I'm so glad to report that I am now over the worst of the tiredness and life is beginning to return to some degree of normality, whatever that was to begin with!

My greatest fear during the past six months was that I wouldn't be well enough to enjoy our eldest son's June wedding.  Well, I can happily say that on the day my health was never better.  Be it the adrenaline, call it what you will, I had an energy and vitality the like of which I've not felt for many, many months.  I should have been exhausted given that I'd spent the previous couple of weeks flying around town, looking for the perfect mother-of-the-groom outfit, aided and abetted of course by some of my very close girlfriends!  We had such a laugh. Following the purchase we then headed to O'Neill's Bar & Restaurant in Suffolk Street for lunch and a celebratory drink.

Well, the wedding ceremony itself took place in the Newman University Church on St. Stephen's Green, Dublin.  Outside, while the rain fell in torrents, within the ancient walls of this magnificant building the light shone brightly as our son and his beautiful bride exchanged their wedding vows, a moment to cause every mother's heart to burst with pride and joy and a tiny sense of "handing them over". (Dads of course too, but in a different way!).  I would love to include here photos of the happy couple but I decided long ago never to post images of family or friends for their own privacy with maybe the exception now and again of hubby.


The reception was held just across the Green in the splended St. Stephen's Green Hibernian Club, but the planned photoshoot beforehand in St. Stephen's Green Park, to be followed by the short walk to the venue, came a cropper to the elements as heavy rain forced the wedding party to hail down taxis, the whole scene looking very much straight out of a Hollywood comedy, we had such fun.  The rain didn't spoil the proceedings in any way, in fact it will have made for much hilarious memories! Hope someone got a photo of us frantically hailing those taxis!

Alongside our own wedding and the birth of our two children this day holds one very special place in my heart.  We wish our son and our new wonderful daughter-in-law a long, happy and healthy life together.




Top image:  Newman University Church via www.universitychurch.ie
Mid image:  Me during wedding ceremony.
Bottom image: Hubby and I deep in conversation in Hibernian Club.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Radiotherapy Treatment Done - Final Hurdle Accomplished!

This has probably been my longest time without posting and I have to admit it feels really scary getting back out there!  So, before the afternoon fatigue sets in I will bring you up-to-date on what's been happening for me over the past few weeks.

On March 22nd I began the first of my twenty daily radiation sessions (excluding weekends and one Bank Holiday).  Fifteen of those treatments were to the right side of my chest - the breast itself with a large surrounding coverage, basically from my shoulder to a couple of inches below my breast.  The remaining five were "boost" treatments directly into the tumour site, receiving a slightly higher dose than the previous "standard" ones.

With the exception of the first and last treatment, all my appointments were afternoon times. It's amazing how you can reschedule your life when needs be, for one whole month the daily travel became part of our normal routine. Hubby, to whom I'll be eternally grateful, provided the necessary taxi service and sat with me in the waiting area until my name was called then afterwards endured the drive home through the rush-hour traffic, which I have to admit wasn't as bad as we'd anticipated.

The radiation treatments themselves were to say the least, very interesting.  The first day took the longest as they had to position me then take measurements and images to make sure everything was in order before the treatment could begin.  The Radiation Treatment Machine (almost identical to the above image) scared me a little at first.  I saw it as a giant living monster especially when its left arm (the one which took the images) moved over me then back again followed by the huge main head which would move right across me, down the other side and back above me. The whirring sound of that machine will remain etched in my memory for evermore.

 I was very lucky in having excellent mobility in my right arm following the surgery as I had to have both arms raised above my head on the table for a considerable time period that day.  The subsequent days required only a minimal amount of positioning and measuring.  Three weeks into the treatment more images were taken to check that my right lung wasn't being affected by the radiation as it was slightly exposed during each dose.

By the end of the second week I was beginning to feel the first tiring effects.  When they checked my blood pressure it was 185/102 and as I was also having headache and dizziness they sent me to my GP who put me on Omesar 10mg to lower the pressure.  I'm really hoping it's not a side-effect of the Femara medication and that I'll be off the blood-pressure pills very soon. Both the hospital people and my GP think it's probably the combined effects of the medication and radiation, my poor body doesn't know which end of it is up!

By the end of week three there were days when I was so tired and nauseous I thought I wouldn't be able to keep my appointments.  This is what they prepared me for but I didn't think it would actually happen to me.  One day it hit me on the way home from the hospital, my body felt like lead and I fought hard to keep my eyes open. The tiredness was so bad it was scary!  From about the second "boost" dose the fatigue has worsened not to mention the "hot flashes" from the Femara, which can on a bad day, be anything up to near twenty in total! Night time can also be a right curse with one minute waking up sweating the next, freezing!

However, I have to look at all of this in a positive light - the side-effects, nasty as they are, pose a very small inconvenience in comparison to having the cancer recur.

I have been extremely lucky with the radiation in that I've not burned except for a small blister beneath my breast which is slightly broken but otherwise my skin is fine.  Apparently burning can be an issue for some women.

 If it's any help to anyone, I used E45 lotion twice a day - first lot in the morning then washed if off later in the shower (using only Simple soap) before attending the unit then again before going to bed.  I still continue with that routine which thank God, seems to be still working for me. For the past five weeks I've not used any deodorant or shaved under my arms, hence possibly beginning to resemble my one of my very early ancestors!  Another three weeks until my armpits are bald and smelling of roses!

For any woman starting her radiotherapy treatment let me say that you have absolutely nothing to fear. At no point is there any discomfort during the process. The only problem for some women might be that their underarm may not be fully mobile following lymph node removal.  My one word of advice would be to try to keep up the gentle arm exercises given by your physiotherapist following surgery, they really, really help. 

So, my final radiation session was on the morning of April 20th.  In a strange way I felt a sense of sadness leaving the building that had become my second home for the past month, indeed, for the past three months. Meeting the radiation therapists each day was like going into the office to chat with the girls and the young man. On Mondays we would talk about our weekend activities, mine definitely being a lot more sedentary than theirs!

Before leaving I was given my six-week check-up appointment and again saw the nurse who photographed my boob then dressed my broken blister.  They keep a good eye on you in there during your treatment, one week you see the doctor then the following week, the nurse.

In some ways the tiredness is getting more pronounced as the weeks go by meaning, that sometimes I can't go somewhere that I've really looked forward to or just plain not being able to go on my walks.  In time I know I'll be fine.


Radiotherapy Treatment Machine Image: www.myradiotherapy.com
St. James's Hospital, Dublin, Radiotherapy Treatment Waiting Area: www.avsystems.ie

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Friday, March 9, 2012

On My Marks, Get Set....CT Planning Scan For Radiotherapy Treatment

Yesterday morning I arrived with hubby to the St. Luke's Radiation Oncology Centre in St. James's Hospital for my CT Planning Scan. This is an amazing state-of-the-art complex. For starters, the very long walk down the winding bare, white corridor served as my "power walk" for the day. I felt I was entering a germ-free zone, like some kind of sci-fi space station, indeed not a single bug could possibly escape your eye on those Dulux Brilliant White walls!

After checking in at reception I was then seen by one of the radiation nurses who entered my medical history on her trusty computer, examined my scars to check the healing process and declared all is well! Back out to hubby while I waited for the documentation to take to my Radiation Oncologist for Consenting. Again, I enjoyed the bright, airy surroundings and the nice tranquil feeling that seemed to pervade the place, no loud voices, just patients and staff going about their business in a quiet manner. Minutes later the nurse hands me the envelope containing the notes my RO needs and tells me I need to go to his office to sign the Consent Form. Off we head on yet another marathon walk. As hubby doesn't need the exercise, I'm the one benefiting most!

The lovely girl at the desk in the Oncology Suite who now recognises me from my previous visits takes my envelope into the RO. Less than five minutes later I'm sitting in front of him discussing my radiotherapy plan. Instead of the thirty three lots of radiation over six and a half weeks he is now going to give me twenty rounds over four weeks. I initially thought this is great until he explained it will be the same amount of radiation but given at a slightly higher level over a shorter time period. This probably means I will be somewhat more exhausted and a bit sorer but I will have a longer recovery time until our family wedding in June. He then again explains the side effects and how my heart and lungs will have minimal exposure. I sign the Consent Form putting all my faith in these great people that I won't be burned to a cinder! Terrifying visions of the radiologist forgetting to click the "off" switch looms before my eyes! I think it's going to be just fine.

Back at the space station hubby and I are taken up to the first floor to await my CT scan. First of all, a nice young lady from the department takes us into a Counselling/Interview Room where she explains what will happen during this scan, including the use of three needle pricks, which I will describe presently. She also gives me advice on how to take care of the areas to be treated before and after treatment. Afterwards, I'm given time to have a pee and a drink of water then when I'm called in by another radiology person I leave hubby sitting reading his book while I head in to become a marked woman!

As I can't remember the positions these two women hold within the radiation department I shall just refer to them as Lady 1 and Lady 2. After I climb aboard the narrow table the two ladies make me comfortable by placing a sort of leather bolster cushion under my knees and helping me to settle into a nice snug position.
While lying flat out I then have to place my arms over my head and clasp my fingers around a bar. This was the part I was worried about as I wasn't sure whether my right arm had sufficient mobility after the lymph node biopsies but I need not have worried as my daily rigorous exercise routine since my op has paid dividends!

Next, Lady 1 busies herself measuring me on both sides with a little ruler and calling out the resulting figures to Lady 2 who then feels around my collar bone and upper chest, placing little pieces of tape here and there as she goes. One of them, can't remember which, then places some wires, again on my upper chest, also possibly over my boob, which she tapes over.

I'm not sure in which order the following happened but I think it was like this: Lady 2 used a felt pen to mark my upper body with three permanent dots (one on my centre chest the other two on either side of my rib cage) then left the room whileI was moved into the scanner for around five minutes. Afterwards she then used a needle to prick each dot to allow the dye move under my skin. The middle one was definitely the most painful because as she later explained it was over a bone. Any ideas I might have harboured about having a tatoo have now most firmly been put to rest!

So, with my first radiotherapy appointment for 22nd March in hand, I bade farewell to the two lovely ladies and headed back out to hubby. Off home for a cup of brew and a very unhealthy fry-up!


Above image via www.myradiotherapy.com

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Onwards and Upwards - Soon No More Cancer!

Well folks, I'm six weeks post-op now and the two scars are healing beautifully! The dreadful continuous pain is completely gone, just every so often sharp pain for a while alternating between the breast and underarm but I'm told that this is part of the healing process. I'm now pretty much back to my pre-op activities.

A couple of days ago I was back with my medical oncologist and as the Oncotype DX Test showed I have a low risk of recurrence of the cancer he has put me on the aromatase inhibitor, Femara, which is basically a drug to reduce the amount of hormones in my body which have, in my case, the ability to attract breast cancer cells. I started taking it yesterday morning, so far, so good, no side effects, hopefully none at all!

Next week I head off to have my CT scan which will pinpoint, for the radiologist, the exact location where to target the radiation beam then about two weeks later the zapping begins!

Earlier this week I had my hair cut again as I figure I won't be able to manage it later in my radiotherapy sessions as I probably will be quite sore. It's only in the last two weeks that I don't need hubby to dry my back after my shower. Wow! progress!

Things are still moving fast and hopefully the worst is over!


Above image: Me with shortest hair-cut in a long time!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

The Kindest Cut - Life-Saving Breast Surgery!

As always whenever a major event takes place in my life I tend to document it in journal form.   Heading into breast cancer surgery, I thought, would surely quality as such an event so, pen at the ready, I jotted down every detail recounting my actions, thoughts and fears, before and after my operation.

Below is the edited version of accounts from the Tuesday afternoon through to the Friday afternoon when I was discharged.  Luckily I wrote down the facts because even at this early stage, a lot of the details have evaporated from my memory.  On a physical level this has not been one of my bigger operations but from an emotional point of view it has been the most overwhelming. So glad it's in the past now.

Tuesday, 17th January 2012:
"At around 2.00pm arrived with hubby at St. James’s Hospital, admissions department. After the usual registration and consent forms were all filled in (totally computerised!) we headed up to the ward.

Fourteen years ago I was in the ward directly overhead (total abdominal hysterectomy) with my bed next to the window on the left hand side of the door.  This time my bed was inside the door, still on the left hand side. As the wards are mirror images of each other it was a very strange, almost unsettling sense of having never left the place! Shortly after I settled in hubby left as he would be visiting later.

Two young nurses, both in their early training, went through my admittal procedure, one taking my medical history, the other, along with doing my observations, took an MRSA swab which is now seemingly routine.

At 5.15pm a young doctor, one of my breast surgeon's team took bloods through the canuala he’d inserted in my left arm (painlessly I might add!), checked my chest and lungs and did an ECG.  I was fine on all counts. He then gave me a Biobank Consent Form to read which outlined the work of the Biobank.  It collects samples of cancer tissue which will be used for research into the disease, its causes, treatments and hopefully its cure. Consenting is totally on a voluntary basis.  As I felt, rather than have my tissue ending up in the bin, I’d rather have it put to good use in the search for a cure so I had no problem handing over my bits of cancerous blubber!

With half an hour to go before the start of evening visiting hubby managed to get in.  We headed downstairs to the cafĂ© where we both had coffee and I had chocolate fudge (for the past couple of months I’ve been able to eat sweet stuff without any ill effects).  We talked about anything and everything including my fear of tomorrow’s sentinel lymph node biopsy.  Afterwards we walked up and down long corridors, one of which was in semi-darkness, very creepy indeed, perfect for a hospital horror story!  Just before 8.00pm we walked back to the ward then at around 8.40pm I walked hubby out to the corridor and just as I was saying goodnight, our youngest son texted so I rang him back.  Lovely chat.

Over the course of the remaining evening doctors from all my departments involved in my surgery arrived in, some taking more blood.  At around 11.00pm settled down for the night.  Owing to the constant coming and going of doctors to myself and the other patients who were also scheduled for surgery I managed to get about three hours sleep.

Wednesday, 18th January 2012
Just as I’d succeeded in slipping into a light doze I was woken at 7.15am for my obs.  Told I would be going down to theatre at around 10.00am.  As there was no lovely smell of toast coming from the kitchen I was spared the agony of hunger pains.  Usually it is absolute torture when the other patients are sitting up having their fries and you have to starve, now even that seems to be done away with!

The young lady in the bed opposite went down for her op at 8.30am and a few minutes afterwards I was started on my infusion of platelets which would run in over half an hour.  At around 9.00am, the woman in the bed next to me was next to go.  Now it was just me and the elderly lady in the corner bed opposite, she slept while I agonized over the pain I would be going through having the radioactive dye inserted into my breast!

At around 9.20am a radiographer arrived in to take me along to have the radioactive dye injected into my boob for the surgeon to see which lymph nodes needed to be removed.  It was a long walk to the radiology department so we had plenty of time to discuss the procedure.  I was scared shitless.

A lovely radiologist did her best to put me at ease but by the time I was lying on the examining table with her holding the first of the three radioactive injections over my breast, I was in tears.  I asked if she could put the numbing cream on and she said they didn’t do it, too late now anyway!  Aware that there were people sitting just outside at a clinic I tried my best not to shout out, instead I bit my lip and screamed silently, tears streaming.  Just then my breast surgeon came in, saw me crying and sympathetically agreed it was painful.  The last injection was probably the easiest in the sense that I was by now in a state of shock from the previous pain.  That over, I was then taken to have my right breast mammogrammed.  Nothing could be as painful as what I’d been through so onward I went like the proverbial lamb to the slaughter.

Mammogram over, I was now taken to have the wire localization thing done in yet another room. Even though my tumour was palpable this procedure was done to show the surgeon exactly its precise location.

At this point I have to say how delightful all the Radiology Department staff were in making me feel reassured and comfortable as best they could.

After I’d popped up on the table a rather beautiful dark-haired radiologist arrived in and proceeded to explain everything in minute detail, not sure though whether I really wanted that level of preciseness!

First thing was an ultrasound to again check the tumour size then the injection of the fast-acting local anaesthetic into the area close to the tumour, which of course I was dreading, but compared to the earlier torture this was a cinch. 

As with the biopsy on 14th December, I began humming and singing up and down the scales as the radiologist began to insert the fine wire into my breast lump. This was again to block out any pain that I might feel during the procedure but I needn’t have worried, it was all over before I knew it.  After the wire was taped into place I then began the long walk back, with the nice radiographer, to my ward.

The room was so quiet with the two ladies already gone to theatre and the sleeping lady still sleeping.  To take my mind off things I put on the elastic stockings which are used to prevent blood clots but are so uncomfortable, then got into my gown and net knickers. Ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille, I thought – not!

My final anxious moments were spent chatting to a wonderful Italian cleaning lady who talked ninety to the dozen about the recession and how life was better when we were less technically advanced, all this ranting might I add in no way hindering her vigorous mopping!   I wholeheartedly agreed with her on most issues.   Just as we were entering yet another topic my theatre trolley arrived. God be with the days when you were lifted onto the trolley because you were so zonked from the pre-med which they don't seem to give these days, more's the pity!

I’m never quite sure how I feel on these long trips to the theatre, sometimes I think I should give a kind of Royal wave to those who move aside to let my carriage pass through, pretend I’m the Queen herself, or imagine I’m the star of an old Dr. Kildare episode where I’m being whisked at break-neck speed into theatre while the viewer sees only the fluorescent ceiling lights whizzing by, anything to distract from the terrifying thought that I’m actually the condemned prisoner being escorted to the gallows!  

As soon as I was wheeled into the “holding-bay” area I recognised it immediately as the same one I was in back in 1998 when I was having my hysterectomy.   A nice young theatre man went through all my details with me, shortly afterwards I was wheeled into the Anaesthetic Room.   There I continued my sometimes hilarious conversations with this young man as my surgeon was still busy with my room-mate. Soon afterwards the oxygen mask was placed over my face and I was asked to keep my eyes wide open - that was a first!   Less than a minute later I felt the first woozy sensation of the magic potion filtering through my veins, seconds later, darkness.

My memory of the Recovery Room is hazy; wakening up every so often to the sound of a nurse’s voice asking how I was doing, aware of the oxygen mask still in place and hearing the incoherent mutterings of the other patients.   As always I was told my operation went well, wonder if anyone has ever been told otherwise! Best thing of all, no pain, the morphine was doing its job.  I suddenly felt very cold and started to shiver so they put extra blankets over me which lulled me back to sleep.   When I next woke up they were waiting to take me back to the ward, I can’t remember if they’d discontinued the oxygen.

On my arrival on the ward, which was seemingly 4.30pm, hubby was waiting for me. As I was half awake I was able to put together a couple of words which delighted him no end!   I don’t remember him leaving.

My next awakening was not so pleasant, within seconds I felt sick, not enough to make me throw up but bad enough to prevent any further sleep.   At around 7.00pm, hubby came back in accompanied by our youngest son, I was so happy to see them.   As I didn’t do too much talking they chatted between themselves  but I enjoyed just listening in. Unfortunately just before they left I became so nauseated hubby had to get the nurse to bring me a puke bowl.   I have to admit I was happy for them to leave as I didn’t want them seeing me being sick. 

The remainder of my night was spent with doctors examining me and taking more blood and me groaning, not from the op pain, but from the dreadful waves of nausea which continued relentlessly through the long hours with no relief from the numerous anti-nausea medications they were giving me through my drip.   They stopped the morphine and gave me another pain relief drug in pill form which certainly did nothing to help with the sickness.   Had a psychopathic killer come into the ward at that moment I would have begged him to shoot me there and then!  Somewhere towards the early hours I drifted off into a kind of sleep.

Thursday, 19th January 2012
At around 7.00am when the nurse did my obs she found my BP to be very low.   I was still feeling total shit.   Unable even to sip a glass of water I later had to deal with more doctors doing their rounds and taking even more blood then worst of all, the physiotherapist arrives to go through some of the exercises I would be doing for quite a while to come.   Fair play to her she recognised how bad I was feeling and cut short her visit.   Even a nun said she’d call back later.

Miraculously my lovely male nurse hit on an anti-nausea drug that actually worked, I wish I’d gotten its name now.   A couple of hours later I was sitting out on my chair and he removed the painful canuala they had put into the back of my hand in theatre, it was huge!  I already had one further up my arm.

It was just before 2.00pm when hubby called in.   I was feeling a lot better but far from ready to eat anything which was OK as I wasn’t at all hungry.  We had  a good old chat!  Shortly after he left at around 4.00pm one of my doctors announced that, all going well, I could go home tomorrow (sub-text = they needed the bed!). 

At 5.00pm when the tea lady came around I decided to be very brave and ask for just a few dry cream crackers and some boiled water for my herbal tea, after all I needed to provide my body with sustenance if I were to walk out of there the next day!.  She was a bit reluctant at first but eventually gave in.   

By the time the evening tea came around I was ready to have something more substantial than herbal tea so I had a lovely cup of vegetable soup which I knew would be the making of me although the nurse assistant didn’t necessarily agree with me, he didn’t think I was quite ready for it yet.   I proved otherwise.

As I was no longer on strong pain relief, every movement during the night was painful enough to wake me from my light dozing.

Friday, 20th January 2012
My first visitor of the day was a nice phlebotomist who again thought she knew me and I her.  She had a bunch of bloods to take and as usual it was like getting blood from a stone!

As I can’t take dairy my breakfast consisted of dry cornflakes, my rice cakes, marmalade and fennel tea.   It was shear Heaven!

Straight afterwards one of my breast doctors arrived to say I would definitely be going home today, he was very pleased with my healing.  Next to arrive was the other very nice doctor who had one final blood test to do! 

No sooner had he left when what seemed like the whole of the haematology department descended upon me!   They were delighted that the platelets worked preventing any chance of a haemorrhage.  A review appointment was made for July and advice given as to what pain relief I could safely take (none of which I can remember!).

Decided to take some exercise before I headed home so did about four long walks up and down the corridor.   On my way back I met my surgeon who was heading in to see me to remove the support bandage.  I noticed on my return that a couple of my room-mates had been moved over into the private rooms.  Turns out they were freeing up beds on my ward.

One of the young nurses who did my obs when I was admitted helped me with my packing as I was unable to bend down to take stuff from my locker.   We had a good laugh as she helped me get dressed, getting my cardigan on was fun!

This wonderful little nurse then carried my hold-all bag over her shoulder while I just held my hand-bag as we made our way downstairs to the Discharge Lounge.   I was so happy to be homeward bound that I didn’t take much notice of how weak I felt.   The Lounge was exactly as I remembered it back in 2003 when I left after my six day stay following my angiogram.   As soon as the lady in charge walked towards me we both smiled as we remembered each other from that day nine years ago!  She was still as nice and kind as ever.  She explained that the doctor would be a while before he’d be down with my discharge letter but as I decided I didn’t want a prescription for pain relief I told her I’d prefer if he could post it onto my GP.   Now I just had to wait for the breast care nurse to give me final instructions regarding my wound.   Meanwhile, hubby arrived.
After about fifteen minutes the nurse came along and gave me a handful of dressings and told me I could remove the steri-strip stitches on day ten post-op but I could shower when I felt like it while the outer waterproof dressing was still in place.

Hubby and I headed out on the long walk to the underground car-park and by the time I got into the car I was totally exhausted but so glad it was all over.  Arrived home around 1.30pm".

The first week at home was going really well, apart from the interminable under-arm pain and burning sensation, so when I decided on the eleventh day to take a shower and remove both the breast and under-arm steri-strip stitches it didn't go at all according to plan!  Diary extract:-

"At around 4.00pm I decided to take a much-needed shower and remove the two dressings (breast and under arm) and steri-strip stitches.   I got hubby to stay with me as I would need him to help dry me.

I got into the shower, took a while to remove the dressing (breast) and stitches. Washed my hair then began to enjoy the warm water flowing down over my body.   Suddenly I began to feel weak, as if I was going to pass out, then the nausea hit like a thunderbolt.   Sitting on the edge of the shower tray as weak as a kitten I became very distressed as I couldn’t even let hubby begin to dry me because I felt so ill.  He eventually helped me to sit on the loo seat where I began to retch and shouted to him to get me a basin.  I thought I was going to die.  Afterwards, although he didn’t want to leave me I begged him to as I didn’t want him to see me in this state.   It was around fifteen minutes later that I slowly began to feel better.  I can only guess that my weakness was brought about by my blood pressure suddenly dropping, nevertheless, it was one of my scariest experiences!"

I'm now almost five weeks post-op and beginning to feel a lot more back to my old self in the last week.  Over the next couple of days I'm planning a meet-up with friends and a trip to the cinema with hubby, can't wait! Next week, treatment! This week, fun!


Top Image: Radioactive Dye Injection for SLNB via www.healthcentral.com   
Surgery Image: My scars and dressings five days post-op. 

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Life Briefly Interrupted - Halfway Towards Recovery!

It feels like a long time since my last post and certainly a lot has happened since then. I've had my breast surgery which was the lumpectomy with wide margin tissue removal and also the sentinel lymph node biopsy (three nodes removed). Two days post-op I was discharged!

At the end of January I returned with hubby to St. James's Hospital, Dublin, for my review with the breast surgeon who gave me the wonderful news that the cancer, Stage 1, Grade 2, had not moved into the lymph nodes, my margins were clear and that I was estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+). He was also satisfied that my wounds were healing nicely. All going well my next visit to him will be in July for a six-month check-up.

A little over a week ago I had two appointments for the same morning. First up was the Medical Oncologist who informed us that a small sample of my tumour was being sent to the States to check which drug treatment I would most benefit from. This is the new Oncotype DX Test which effectively will help the doctor and us decide whether I will be having chemo or hormone therapy or both. Whatever the choice I will still be having the radiation, thirty three lots as opposed to the twenty five first mentioned to kill off any nasty stray blithers! I'm due to see the Medical Oncologist again this time up on the day ward at the end of February. As I've no idea what awaits me, I'm scared all over again.

My next post will be an edited account of those three days in hospital.

Above image: St. James's Hospital, Dublin via www.rte.ie

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Almost There Now - Let Cancer Battle Commence!

Today I met with my new breast surgeon and breast care nurses in St. James's Hospital. All were very pleasant and reassuring. Having had all the details explained to me three weeks ago by the BreastCheck team, hearing them now wasn't quite the shock to the system it had been then. Everything still stands, the sentinel lymph node biopsy followed by the removal of the lump including a wide margin of surrounding tissue. If a complete mastectomy isn't required, five weeks later I will begin five weeks of radiotherapy. If chemotherapy is required, it will begin shortly after the surgery followed by the radiotherapy.

I've been given an early admission date for next week, all depending of course whether there's a bed available. Let's see what 2012 has in store for hospital admission waiting times!


Above Breast Surgery Image: www.mycanceradvisor.com

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Never A Dull Moment - Change of Hospital!

Thought I'd start off this post with the beautiful view from our holiday home in Allihies, Beara Peninsula, West Cork (taken last February, look at that sky!) where I hope hubby and I will return in the summer when all my surgery and treatment will be in the past and I will have become a breast cancer survivor!

Well, yesterday it was decided that I would have my surgery in St. James's Hospital (my old haunt), because of my bleeding disorder and because they have treated me on many an occasion for post-op bleeding plus all my previous notes are there.

I now have to meet my new breast surgeon and breast care nurse, possibly this Tuesday, fingers crossed! I will miss my lovely nurse I got to know over the past few weeks and who has been so supportive, I can't thank her enough.

Above image: Allihies, taken by me in February 2011.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

D-Day - Biopsy Results

Tuesday, 20th December 2011:

The last six days have been the longest of my life. Never have I been so grateful to being up to my eyes in getting ready for Christmas because I just didn't have the time to think about my impending biopsy results.

Hubby and I arrived at the BreastCheck clinic around 11.00am. It was only when I got there that the nerves began to set in. My thoughts were racing between receiving a bad outcome but maybe, just maybe, everything would be fine, I clung to the latter. So much so that when I was called in I asked hubby to remain here because I was certain I'd be back out in a couple of minutes. As soon as I entered the surgeon's office he asked that hubby join us. My nurse got someone to bring him in.

There was no beating about the bush, straight out with it he told us that cancer cells were found. It sort of just went over my head, everything said from then onwards was like I was hearing it in a dream state. Hubby, thankfully, retained some degree of comprehension and asked most of the important questions. The surgeon then went on to explain the type of surgery he would perform. As well as removing the lump he will also remove a considerable amount of the surrounding tissue to make sure all of the cancer cells have been taken away thus none will escape elsewhere.

I will also have what's called a Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy done on the morning of the operation to check whether the cancer cells have reached the lymph nodes, fingers crossed this won't have happened. So, after all that, hubby and I were taken by my nurse to a lovely little room where she spent about an hour with us explaining everything in great detail and answering our every question. She then gave me forms to have an ECG, Blood Tests and a Chest X-Ray done if possible before leaving the hospital. I was lucky I managed all three so at least they're out of the way.

Wednesday, 21st December 2011:

A day I hoped I'd never have to face. Although I wanted to leave telling our boys (who are in their mid and late twenties) until after Christmas Day, my nurse advised we tell them right now. It was OK, I was fine and they, thank God, took the news well. They asked a lot of questions which I was able to answer and put their minds at ease.

Thursday, 22nd December 2011:

My 60th Birthday! The whole family took me to the Shelbourne Hotel for dinner where I was wined and dined like a film star. I love those guys to pieces.


Above image: Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy www.cancer.gov

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Blurry Images On A Screen, Cells In A Syringe - The Waiting Game

Wednesday, 14th December 2011:

A light drizzly rain was falling by the time hubby and I arrived for my 10.15am appointment at the BreastCheck clinic. Still very hopeful that whatever the procedure to be carried out it would reveal a happy outcome. While waiting at the reception desk I noticed one of the leaflets on the counter was the photoshoot I'd done for the BreastCheck campaign back in 2007 during which time I also did their TV commercial!

Didn't have too long to wait before a lovely lady called me in and introduced me to the radiologist who told me I would be having an ultrasound to check the size and shape of my breast lump. Within a couple of minutes she informed me that the lump was just under 2cm, which is quite small but what was next to come shocked me a little, she was going to do a biopsy. Although I knew it could happen I just assumed my particular situation wouldn't require one. Even with all the assurance that the local anaesthetic would numb the area I was scared witless that I would feel every ounce of the pain. I need not have worried.

Throughout the administration of the numbing and even the biopsy itself I sang, yes, sang my way through the pain barrier! It wasn't any particular song, more the case of running up and down the scales then even counting backwards, anything to distract my mind from what was happening, namely the removal of a few cells to send to the laboratory for testing. I constantly referred to my nervousness as being compared to the feeling before performing on stage or to the camera, they definitely don't come crazier than me!

Luckily I'd discussed my bleeding disorder with the radiologist and nurse beforehand because even though the incision was small I began to bleed quite a bit so they were prepared. It took a good deal of pressing down on the wound to stem the flow but eventually all was well and I had the little strip of stitches attached plus the dressing. Afterwards, my nice nurse who is now my liason nurse took me to another room where she brought me a cup of coffee and talked to me for a few minutes while we waited to be joined by the radiologist.

Basically she told me that she wasn't expecting a good result from the biopsy. That came as quite a shock, no way was I expecting that. I was already shaking from the procedure but now I was absolutely trembling. My lump was not the cyst I thought it was, instead it was solid. After the radiologist left my nurse remained with me for a while. She told me I would soon be seeing the surgeon who would explain the surgery details with me, I then returned to the small waiting room still wearing my gown. There I got talking to a woman who was waiting for her results and was so nervous she did most of the talking. I just listened, I think that's all she needed. A while later she was called in then after about ten minutes popped her head in to tell me she got the all-clear. I was really happy for her.

The surgeon, a friendly looking chap, introduced himself and pretty much repeated what the radiologist had earlier told me - the chances of a good biopsy result were very slim. In the chair opposite sat my nurse. I felt comforted by her strong yet calming presence.

I was to return next Tuesday, 20th December for the biopsy results. After getting dressed I went back out to the main waiting room where hubby was waiting, his book lying on the chair beside him, unread.

On the way to the underground car-park I relaid to him the morning's happenings. I even prepared him for the fact that next week may not bring the news we were hoping for.


Above image: My BreastCheck TV Commercial (2007).
Bottom image: Breast Ultrasound: www.breast-cancer.ca

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