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Cancer Blog

In July 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. I'd been working as consultant breast surgeon for just 2 years, and could not get my head around the fact that I had been diagnosed with the one illness I had spent my life learning how to treat. I was a fit, healthy triathlete. How on earth could I have breast cancer?

My initial assessment showed an ER+ve HER2-ve 5.5cm mixed ductal and lobular breast cancer with clear axillary lymph nodes. I had chemotherapy first, followed by a mastectomy with a reconstruction using an implant. After my mastectomy, I discovered that although the ductal part of my cancer had disappeared, there was still a large area of lobular cancer in my breast, and it had spread to my lymph nodes. I therefore needed radiotherapy to complete my own 'triathlon' of cancer treatment.

The only way I could cope with what was happening to me was to write a blog. The following pages take you with me, from diagnosis all the way through to moving on when my treatment finished.

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DIAGNOSIS
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It will be fine

21 July 2015
I first found a breast lump in 2010. I was working as a surgical registrar in Luton. My husband had just proposed, and had taken 7 weeks’ holiday to sail the North West Passage in the Arctic - definitely no wifi or 3G there!
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What learning curve?

21 July 2015
As a breast surgeon, breaking bad news is fairly common, sadly, and although it takes a lot out of me, it is something I enjoy doing. I know that I do it well, and most of the time, I can get a little hint of a smile from my patients and their families before I leave them with the breast care nurses to pick up the pieces.
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The waiting game

24 July 2015
At that moment my consultant came in, and then there were 3 of us that knew. I then needed to have a biopsy. Now I do biopsies in clinic, and I was suddenly nervous. I tell my patients that the local anaesthetic feels like a nettle sting, that lasts for a few seconds. I then say that they might feel some pushing and pulling, but it shouldn’t hurt. I’ve never had local or a biopsy. What if I’d been lying to my patients all these years?
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The aftermath

29 July 2015
Dermot and I drove home and rang our families. For me, it was a very surreal experience when I spoke to my parents in Scotland. It felt like I was talking to relatives about a patient, and not about me. They were shocked (to say the least), especially when I said that I would have chemotherapy first, which is always a scary word.
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Information overload

29 July 2015
On Wednesday morning, Dermot and I went to the Breast Unit to see my consultant, with all the results after the MDT discussion. This was a really nervous time for me, as I knew how bad things could be, depending on the various scan and receptor results.
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CHEMOTHERAPY
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Chemo cycle 1

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Days 1-4 after chemo

1 August 2015

The first few days after chemo where always going to be scary for me. I was no longer in control of my body. I had no idea how I would react to the chemotherapy. Would I get some or all of the side effects? How bad would they be? When would they kick in? How long would they last? Being out of control is something I do NOT enjoy!
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Days 5-7 after chemotherapy

4 August 2015

So I made it through the first 4 days after chemotherapy, and was starting to feel really quite rotten. What would the next few days have in store for me?
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Neutropaenic sepsis...?

7 August 2015

So today was Day 8, the start of week 2. And it didn't start well. I woke up silently screaming at 1am with the worst headache I have ever, ever had. I was crying with the pain. Paracetamol and ibuprofen didn't touch it.
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Turning the corner

8 August 2015

What a difference a day makes! After my trip to the oncology day unit yesterday, I woke up feeling like a different person. It literally felt like the fog had lifted. The headache had finally eased and I got a little more sleep.
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Hair today

13 August 2015

Most people know that chemo makes your hair fall out. I was told this at the initial appointment with my oncologist, and had decided not to use a cold cap (to try and keep my hair), as it might induce vascular headaches, seeing as I'm prone to migraines.
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The 'good' week

15 August 2015

Although I had been looking forward to week 3, I was really scared about having to go through another round of chemotherapy, as the first one was a real struggle for me. I wasn't sure whether I would feel as good as everyone said I would - but they were right.
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Cycling to cycle 2 of chemo

21 August 2015

I had been joking to a couple of friends that I would cycle to my second chemo session, as it was the next cycle of chemo. And suddenly, the day had arrived. The sense of trepidation and anxiety was awful - just the thought of having to go through all those side effects again and feel that awful was horrible.
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Cycle 2 - not quite as TAXing

22 August 2015

If you remember from my last blog, I jokingly asked Dermot in the car on the way home whether he would do the Park Run with me on Saturday, the day after chemo, and he said yes! I hadn’t done the Park Run (Bury St Edmunds, Nowton Park) for almost a year, and hadn’t run for a good couple of months.
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Mystery shopping

28 August 2015

So far, so good. Friday had come and gone without me ending up on the day unit having my bloods checked! I was so relieved. I was starting to feel a wee bit better, and was looking forward to Dermot coming home so I could have a sensible conversation with someone, instead of staring in to space like a zombie.
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Going to the Mensroom

10 September 2015

The weekend after my night in hospital was spent sleeping and resting and swallowing tablets - something I hate having to do. I was also getting constipated again which made me feel very miserable, so I was also taking 2 sachets of Movicol a day to try and get things moving.
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Cycle 3 - tired of being tired

11 September 2015

It was another lovely sunny day, that was going to be ruined by my final Docetaxel chemotherapy cycle. I was really dreading this. Although I couldn’t really remember just how bad I was in the bad week of cycle 2, I knew that I didn’t want to have to go there again.
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Run or Dye Tri-ing

18 September 2015

I’d made it through the last of the Docetaxel, which was a huge relief. Everyone was telling me that I was half-way through, which was a good thing. But I’ve always been a pessimist, and being half-way just meant that I had to go through it all again. But I tried to put those thoughts behind me, and enjoy the 2 good weeks coming up, as I had a couple of crazy things planned, and a birthday to celebrate :)
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Reality kicks in

After such an amazing week, with my birthday and completing the sprint triathlon, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I started to get very, very low. The reality of having cancer was slowly kicking in. Up until now, I had still been in denial - I didn’t really have cancer, I wasn’t really going to have surgery, and chemotherapy was just something I was going through.
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FEC chemo and a cold don't mix

14 October 2015

I really, really didn’t want to turn up to chemo today. After scaring myself by reading blogs and forums at the weekend, I was nervous. It was a new round of chemo drugs called FEC, and I was back to not being in control. For those of you who know me, you’ll know I don’t cope well when I’m not in control.
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What is a breast?

2 November 2015

What is a breast? Now don’t look at me as if I’m mad. It’s a valid question, and one that I thought I knew the answer to. I’ve spent three of my final 6 years training as a surgeon focusing purely on breast surgery, learning how to treat breast disease, from harmless to serious, and how to operate, reshape and reconstruct a breast and a nipple.
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5 down, only 1 to go

12 November 2015

So here we are, the penultimate chemo session, and I really didn’t want to go. I know I say that every time, but it’s true. I’d thought about cycling in, but it was cold and windy and I was tired - tired of life at the moment.
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Transition time

24 November 2015

Suddenly it was time to go to my last chemo session. In the end, I decided to dress for comfort. It was a blustery day and I was feeling the cold, so jeans and a hoodie to keep my head warm, allow access to the port, with a zip for quick cooling for the hot flushes was the order of the day. It was Friday 13th, and I wondered whether that was bad for the cancer, or bad for me.
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How to cope with chemo

I had no idea what chemotherapy would be like, and didn't know what I needed to help me through. Simple things like what to wear to chemo, and how much paracetamol to buy. Some absolute angels sent me their survival tips, and I'm now sharing mine with you. It's a long post, but I hope it helps.
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SURGERY
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Decisions, decisions

3 December 2015

Helping a patient decide whether to have a reconstruction following a mastectomy can be incredibly challenging, for a variety of reasons. There are things that the patient can control, and those she can't. As a breast surgeon, making a decision for myself was a particular challenge.
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Twas the night before surgery

9 December 2015

So chemo is over, and I've had a month to get ready for my surgery. It's a very strange place to be - wondering whether I've made the right decision about what operation to have, and still not believing that chemo is finally over. The side effects were slowly wearing off, and my taste was getting back to normal. Sadly, tea tasted awful, and I really missed the routine and ritual of making tea, and Dermot bringing me a cup of tea in the morning.
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Mastectomy time

10 December 2015

The time had come. After months of indecision about what type of mastectomy I wanted, it was time to go to hospital. The alarm went off at the crack of dawn and Dermot and I nervously got up and got dressed. We were both ready for the bike leg of my breast cancer triathlon.
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Waiting for the results

23 December 2015

It was now time to find out exactly what my patients go through after I've operated on them. I must admit to being a huge mixed bag of emotions. I had survived the anaesthetic, and the cancer was out, and all I had to do was get through the radiotherapy. But would it really be that simple? The after-effects of chemo had all but gone, apart from my poor nails, and the residual altered taste, which was slowly improving.
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Run and Done?

24 December 2015

Dermot and I were called in, and we sat down, nervous and excited, ready to hear the good news. And we did. We heard that the chemo had melted away the ductal cancer in my breast. If you remember, way back at the beginning, my initial biopsy showed both ductal and lobular cancers, which come from the breast milk ducts and lobules respectively. Great!

And then things suddenly got a whole lot worse.
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Here we go again

6 January 2015

So, where were we? Oh yes, I remember. It was 23rd December. I'd just told my family and friends that despite 5 months' of chemotherapy, the residual cancer in my breast was twice the size of that seen on the MRI, and it had spread to my lymph nodes. Happy Christmas.
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Recovering again

11 January 2015

I woke up from my second operation back on the ward, in the same side room as my last op, feeling a bit sore and a bit dopey, just like last time. My surgeon had put a drain in my armpit because I produced quite a lot of fluid (serum) after my mastectomy, and I had to keep remembering to take it with me when I went to the toilet.
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Knowledge is power...or is it?

7 February 2016

Throughout the majority of my treatment, I've not asked many questions about the choices I've been offered. NHS breast cancer treatment is fairly standardised, regardless of where you live or who you see, and every patient is discussed at an MDT to ensure that nothing is missed out when discussing treatment options. I'd heard about a trial, Create-X, whose preliminary results had just been published at a major international conference in December of last year, showing some benefit from further chemotherapy for patients, a bit like me, who hadn't responded to their first chemotherapy.
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How long have I got?

5 March 2016

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn't really think about my own mortality. I dealt with the mortality of others on an almost daily basis at work, and it takes a lot of tact and patience to talk about this with patients. With a lot of my patients, "How long have I got?" is the first thing they ask me when I tell them they have breast cancer.
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RADIOTHERAPY
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Waiting for radiotherapy

7 March 2016

It's been about 6 weeks since I last wrote about my recovery after surgery for breast cancer. My main problem was cording, where tight bands form just underneath the skin, running along your arm to your elbow, stopping you from moving your arm properly. I also had a black crusty scab instead of a nipple. Nice.
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Just radiotherapy to go

13 March 2016

I'm finally getting to the 'run' stage of my breast cancer triathlon swim/bike/run analogy - radiotherapy. Many women who have a mastectomy don't need radiotherapy. It's always given to women who have a lumpectomy, to treat the breast tissue that is left behind. In my case, because my tumour was large (131mm) and I had 3 positive lymph nodes, radiotherapy was added on after chemotherapy and surgery.
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The Triathlon is over!

13 April 20116

Today I finished radiotherapy.

Let me say that again. Today, I finished radiotherapy! This means the end of 9 months' of hospital treatment for my breast cancer, and the end of my triathlon analogy - shame there's no medal to add to my collection.
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MOVING ON
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Who needs oestrogen?

10 April 2016

So I've completed my breast cancer triathlon, but it's not the end of the journey. My breast cancer is sensitive to oestrogen. This means that the oestrogen I produce could stimulate any remaining cancer cells to grow and spread. It was time for Operation 'Lose the Oestrogen'. I've been trying to tie this in with the triathlon analogy. The only thing I can think of is to liken it to the strength and conditioning workouts we all know we should be doing, but never get round to.
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Feeling hot, hot, hot

13 April 2016

It was time to start the maintenance treatment - tablets and injections that will hopefully keep any lingering cancer cells fast asleep, and keep me around for as long as possible. Taking my first Tamoxifen tablet was quite an emotional thing for me. I had to face the fear of what side effects I might get, and deal with a daily reminder that I have had breast cancer, for the next 10 years.
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Let's talk about sex

4 July 2016

I bet that title caught your eye, didn't it?

Friends and family alert - I'm going to blog about the thing that no-one ever mentions after you've been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sex. I've spent several months talking about this with many breast cancer survivors, and felt the need to share just a little of what I'd learned.
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Discharged

14 July 2016

I can't believe that it's almost a year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A lot has happened in that time. Those of you who've been following my blog will know that I've had chemotherapy, 2 operations and radiotherapy, and it's getting harder to remember how I felt during that time.
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Giving something back

16 August 2016

It's been a while since I last blogged. I guess I just needed a couple of months to mentally recover after all my treatment had finished. But now I'm back, and there's a lot to catch up on. And that all starts with giving something back.
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The Big Pink

12 October 2016

Ever since I was a teenager, I've had an aversion to the colour pink. Now before you panic, I wasn't traumatised as a child, I just didn't think it suited me. So becoming a breast surgeon and treating breast cancer - which is permanently linked to the colour pink, was very frustrating at times. I somehow managed to get away without wearing pink at work charity events, And then I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself, and got to experience the joys of October - pink month.
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Work and Cancer

28 October 2016

I'm about to start returning to work, and I have to say I'm a little nervous. It's going to be incredibly tough to go back into the breast cancer environment having had breast cancer myself. But I've also realised it can be quite complicated. When I was first diagnosed, I was shocked to discover how little I knew about taking sick leave, what my rights were, how much full-pay and half-pay sick leave I was entitled to. I also realised how little I knew about what rights I had as a cancer patient when I returned to work.
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Know your rights

17 November 2016

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a tweetchat for Macmillan to help people with cancer learn about their rights when they go back to work. I was amazed at how little I knew when I had my first meeting about returning to work.
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All I want is a bra

21 November 2016

I'm still off work at the moment - waiting for things to fall in to place so I can be re-skilled before being let loose on live patients again, and that means a lot of time at home during the day, and I might watch the odd Friends repeat every now and again just to pass the time. And that means I see a LOT of Christmas adverts. And one in particular made me feel quite sad and teary. It's a lingerie ad featuring 3 beautiful models prancing around in beautiful underwear. And it killed me - knowing that I'll never be able to wear bras like that again.
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Quantity or quality?

14 December 2016

This time last year I was recovering from my mastectomy and reconstruction, and I still can't believe how much my life has changed in the year that followed. I have made so many amazing friends - and sadly lost a few. And my
jar of joy is almost completely full.
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Waiting

30 December 2016

I've just come back from a fabulous few days in Switzerland, and got to spend time with my family over Christmas. This is Dermot and I in Zurich about to have a very very good hot chocolate. And we fly off to Reykjavic today for New Year's Eve, hoping to also see the Northern Lights. Dermot has seen them sailing, and I've always been incredibly jealous. So I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the odds are in my favour.
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Scanxiety

27 January 2017

I'd never heard of the word
scanxiety until I was diagnosed with breast cancer and started talking to the breast cancer patient community on Twitter. I didn't understand it. Until it happened to me.
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World Cancer Day

3 February 2017

As a breast surgeon, I was always vaguely aware of World Cancer Day, but the significance of it passed me by. And then I got diagnosed with breast cancer myself, and I went from being a doctor to a patient, having the very illness that I was an expert in. I never thought breast cancer could happen to me, and I didn't check my breasts regularly – which goes against everything I tell my patients.
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....and relax

8 February 2017

If you remember, I was waiting to see my surgeon to have my neck nodes looked at. It was meant to be Friday but my surgeon was poorly, and so my appointment was moved to Tuesday. However, last Thursday night I was having a rummage around. I'd seen my GP who couldn't feel any other nodes, but I thought I'd double check. And I found a couple of large lymph nodes in my right armpit (the other side to my original breast cancer). And this worried me a lot more than the neck nodes.
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Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer?

15 February 2017

The
Independent and the Daily Telegraph published articles yesterday saying that less than half of all GPs knew that Tamoxifen can reduce the risk of breast cancer, and that they are denying women this cheap drug that could slash their
risk of breast cancer by 40%.

I thought I'd try and explain this a little, as it's not as simple as - take Tamoxifen and you won't get breast cancer. It may be that GPs need to be educated about the benefits of Tamoxifen, but we also need to educate the patients so they can make their own, well-informed choice.
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The language of cancer

23 February 2017

Firstly, I realise that I've left those of you who don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook anxiously waiting to hear the results of my tests, and I'm truly sorry. I'm delighted to be able to tell you that everything was clear, and my lymph nodes were just reactive - enlarged because of a bad cold I had.
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Who am I?

22 April 2017

This is not the blog I thought I was going to write today. I know it's been a while since I last posted, and quite a lot has happened. I went to the UK Blog Awards in April where my blog was highly commended in the Health and Social Care Category, which is a huge achievement. However it made me take a closer look at the blogging industry, because it is an industry. Many people write blogs with the hope that they can turn them into a business, and eventually make a living from them. That's not why I started writing. Initially it was because I was in denial about my cancer diagnosis, and writing about my treatments helped it seem real.
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This is who I am

1 March 2018

Almost a year ago, I wrote my last cancer-related blog - '
Who am I?'

After finishing my treatment and planning how to get back to work, whilst training for a half-ironman triathlon, I didn't have the time, energy or focus to continue blogging.
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