Firstly, thank you so much for all the messages of love and support in the last couple of days. I can not overstate how much they mean to me and help me.
Today I met my oncologist, Dr Spurrell. There’ll be quite a lot of science bits in tonight’s blog, so you can always just skip to the picture of the cat at the end if you’d prefer.
She explained that all my treatment to date has been about focusing on the cancer we knew was there (and is now gone!), and the radiotherapy will be another localised treatment to kill off any rogue cancer cells. More to come on that next week….
As an oncologist her interest is in the treatment needed for the whole body to prevent a recurrence of the cancer. There could be the tiniest traces of cancer anywhere in my body which are undetectable, so the treatments have to be rather indiscriminate, just in case. And for three reasons I will need chemotherapy: my cancer is grade 3 (aggressive little bugger), I’m young and there is one lymph node involved, all of which increase the chance there are rogue cells hanging about somewhere. So, we’re going to kill them off with a cocktail of drugs (FEC-T in my case).
This cocktail party comes in 6 instalments, three weeks apart, starting in March once I’m fully recovered from the operation. So that’s 18 weeks of spring and summer booked up. To be honest, I wish it was starting sooner. I have another wodge of leaflets to read and websites to research so I can fully understand chemotherapy and potential side effects.
Then we’re also going to starve any of these little rogue cells should any decide to pop up in the coming years. My cancer is fed by oestrogen (it’s ER7, oestrogen positive) so the idea is to limit my body’s oestrogen production. That will be done with Tamoxifen, a medication I will take for about 5 years. I’ve got a leaflet on that too. What’s eye opening about all these leaflets is that they are produced by charities eg MacMillan, Breast Cancer Care, not by the NHS. More than ever, I’m seeing the huge importance of charitable funding.
Then we had a couple of other interesting discussions, especially pertinent given the media attention on the NHS (the BBC Hospital programme is on this evening – what an eye opener).
Firstly, there is a test called Oncotype DX which is a genetic test of the tumour to predict the likelihood of recurrence. If I had not had lymph node involvement (i.e.the cancer was stage 1), then this test would have been done to determine the need for chemotherapy. As it is, I’m being recommended to have chemotherapy, but my oncologist said I can privately fund the test. The cost is £2,500. Alternatively, I could use that money and go on holiday to St Lucia as part of my recovery if I’m having the chemotherapy anyway. But, it made me think about how tests like are saving the NHS huge amounts of money by avoiding unnecessary treatment.
I have private health insurance, so I will ask if they’d fund the test. Just curious to know more.
Secondly, I was bowled over (again) by the support network that the NHS provides. Whilst having chemotherapy, my immune system will be hugely compromised so I have to be hyper vigilant about infection. Dr Spurrell said I will need to check my temperature regularly, and if it goes above 37.5, even if feel well, I must immediately go to A&E where I will instantly be given antibiotics. Moreover, every patient having chemotherapy is on a list held by the London Ambulance Service. How amazing is that?
Feeling really good about knowing more about my treatment, even if what it involves is quite overwhelming and the potential side effects are tough. But it must be done.
Now for the cat. According to folklore, Dick Whittington had a cat who was an exceptional ratter. On Highgate Hill is the spot where Dick Whittington heard Bow Bells which foretold his future as Mayor of London. That spot is outside the hospital, and is marked by Whittington Stone.