Side effects: trying to appreciate chemo while it's beating the shit out of you.

This first phase of my treatment has involved three types of chemo: Olaparib (tablet), Carboplatin (IV drip), and Paclitaxel (IV drip). I had my last dose of Carboplatin last week, and am taking my last Olaparib tablet tonight. Finishing the Carboplatin didn't really register, but the Olaparib has been playing on my mind - taking the final dose feels like stepping off a ledge and not knowing if there's a steep drop awaiting...

From the start Olaparib is the medication that we've pinned all of our hopes on; it's a new, as-yet-unliscensed-for-breast-cancer (I'm on a clinical trial) gene therapy - super clever stuff developed specifically for patients with the BRCA genetic problem. While most chemotherapies kill off healthy cells alongside cancerous cells, Olaparib can switch off the cancerous cells' ability to repair themselves / survive, without damaging healthy cells. A lot of the side effects associated with chemo (esp things like hair loss) are due to the chemo being unable to discriminate between healthy and unhealthy cells, killing off anything fast-growing. In theory, this new approach ought to lead to a more targeted, 'kinder' chemotherapy.

This week I gathered another, very worrying chemo side effect - a suspected blood clot in my chest. I'm due to have a scan this week to determine exactly where it is, and in the meantime am on blood thinning injections. I once read a Kylie Minogue interview in which she described chemo as 'like a nuclear bomb going off in your body'. I get it. It warps and reconfigures everything, nothing is out of bounds - from fingernails to blood, nose lining to bum, all is at its mercy. In spite of this I have a real emotional struggle when people are negative about chemo. I've had so many well-meaning people try to empathise, saying things like 'urgh, chemo's just horrible', 'chemo's such a bastard isn't it?!', 'chemo just sounds like the worst', and all I can think is 'WAIT!...chemo's the one thing trying to save my life!'. The side effects are brutal, and some days they make me feel absolutely desperate, but without chemo...

Anyways. In honour of my last Olaparib, and the last week of Phase 1 of the treatment, I've compiled a list of the side effects that these last 11 weeks have thrown up. If you've yet to have chemo - don't panic. They're not a given. For those experiencing some / all of these - you're not on your own. Starting with the three I've found hardest to deal with, and then just going nuts:
  • Anaemia 
  • Anal fissure
  • DVT / blood clot in chest
  • Menopause 
  • Hair loss
  • Facial rash
  • Dry skin
  • Shiny, tight skin
  • Nosebleeds 
  • Neck pain
  • Bone pain
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Chest pain
  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Dizziness
  • Broken nails

Tired, tired, tired, tired, tiredness.

Let's end this with a topical Jovi (and one of my favourites):

Diagnosis Murder (ok, cancer)

Yesterday I went to the hospital to have a breast abscess drained. I had first noticed it 3 weeks ago, on the first day of my holiday. I previously had mastitis around the scar tissue on my other breast, and assumed that this was more of the same - especially as I'd just spent a very long, hot 24 hours travelling from home to a small town in upstate New York. It had all of the hallmarks of mastitis - red, swollen, sore, uncomfortable. One thing that was different this time was that there was a hard mass in the breast. That made sense though - the internet told me that mastitis could result in breast abscesses.

So, for the two weeks of my trip I meticulously applied antiseptic cream, washed my bra every day, drank loads of water and slept whenever I felt I needed to. By the time I got back things were looking a bit worse, but I'd already made calling my GP a priority, and so first thing Monday morning went and displayed my manky boob to the doctor. His first reaction on seeing it was "Yep, you've got an infection there". After an examination, he confirmed that I had an abscess, gave me a stonking great prescription for antibiotics, and told me to come back in 48 hours if there was no improvement, saying that I may need the abscess draining.

48 hours later was my birthday (hurrah!) and so I treated myself to another trip to the GP, once again flopped my frankenboob out, and stated that nothing was improving. He agreed, and phoned through to the City Hospital, to have me admitted to the abscess clinic the next morning. I am so, so, so glad that he did.

Having read / looked at / watched everything the internet has to say about breast abscesses, and the merit of fine needle aspiration vs incision and draining, I was feeling queasy but pleased to be getting rid of what was by now a very swollen, uncomfortable lump. I also was secretly hoping to be able to watch the aspiration, as a closet Dr Pimple Popper fan (I know, I know).

After undressing and lying back on the table, the unfamiliar but very nice doctor jellied-up the ultrasound wand, and began to move it over my breast. The images on the screen meant absolutely nothing to me, and I had to resist the urge to shout "is it a boy or a girl?!". Having located the lump she plunged a skinny needle straight into it, which was surprising but not painful. She immediately had trouble, saying that she was having to apply pressure as nothing was appearing, then fished around a bit, and withdrew the needle with what looked to be only a small amount of blood within it.

And that's when it all went <ahem> tits up. Both doctor and nurse went from pleasant and friendly, to super-smiley and upbeat, explaining that they weren't dealing with an abscess, and that they were going to give me local anaesthetic and take a core biopsy. One look at the size of the needle (it looked like you could shoot arrows through it) and I was very grateful to be having the anaesthetic. As she took the biopsies, Dr Hamilton told me that she believed this to be a "breast lump" - I was confused, thinking "well yes, it's not a bum lump is it?!" and only realised moments later that she was using "lump" as a euphemism for tumour. At which point, my eyes became exceedingly sweaty. I kept doing that futile thing, where you press your finger up against your lower lid, partly to wipe the tears away but also to stem any further tears. Futile.

She took four biopsies in total, and they were… unpleasant. Not painful, but a very unnatural feeling of pressure as the needle's forced in, and shock as the mechanical hole-punching action takes the tissue sample. It's quick, but feels like it takes an eternity. The doctor that checked the lymph nodes in my armpit, said "yes, your glands are up too" and gave more anaesthetic, taking a biopsy from there too. The nurse swabbed away the blood and fluid, bandaged me up, and the doctor explained that she was fairly sure we were dealing with a breast cancer lump. She nipped out, and came back after I was dressed, explaining that she'd just been checking the MRI I'd had last November. She said that it was completely clear, and that there was nothing to have diagnosed at that time. She also explained that while I'd only noticed symptoms 3 weeks ago, the tumour will have been there a while longer, but had presented very quickly and aggressively, which was worrying. Again, the very chipper reassuring voice that told me "I'm concerned but not telling you." The nurse who'd been present the whole way through gave me an enormous hug, and handed me over to a breast care specialist nurse. The one (Nicky) I've been seeing since the start of my BRCA journey was on annual leave, so this other nurse sat me down and explained what happens next.

In a nutshell: go back next Thursday, collect biopsy results, have a full-body scan to see if it's spread to any other places, and hopefully pick up my chemo plan. The tumour's too big to operate at the moment, so she said it'll probably be a case of shrinking it with chemo, then operating. She said the word chemo softly as though it were bad news; all I could think was "PLEASE, CHEMO, ANYTHING, THROW IT ALL AT ME".

I'm finishing this post (and off to therapy - PHEW!!!!) with You Give Love A Bad Name. No real reason, other than I like it, and I don't have the thinking space to come up with a connected Jovi today:

WiP it real good...

'What's on your needles?!' I hear you bellow. 'More than you could shake a pretty big stick at', I tell you. I wanted to take a work-in-progress shot, so did a quick recce of the house, picking up projects I've thoughtfully left lying around, and stopped when I reached seven.

There are more in the boot of my car, down the side of the sofa, and under my desk at work… I haven't finished a project in ages, and am far too easily distracted. I'm hoping that this blog will make me focus and finish something once in a while. On my needles are:

1. Is This Love jumper, in black Shiny Happy Cotton - pattern and yarn from Wool and the Gang. How can you not knit a pattern named for a Whitesnake song?! Bonus: FRILLS.

2. Almanac cardigan by Martin Storey, in Rowan Creative Focus. So nice I made it twice! I originally made this in a green and pink colourway; this one's a flecked teal and magenta. It's tough to capture in a photo, but these are two of the most beautiful yarns I've worked with.

3. Little Boy Blue Baby Blanket by Marlaine DesChamps, in buttery-soft Malabrigo Aqua. This one's a present; there are six babies due this June, and this is blanket number two *reaches for Deep Heat*

4. Ruby by Martin Storey, in an amazingly bright and fluffy anonymous yarn I bought on holiday Buenos Aires.

5. #24 Bobble Pullover by Carla Scott in a combination of Bergere Alpaca and Rowan Kidsilk Haze. 

6. #24 Bobble Pullover by Carla Scott in a combination of Bergere Alpaca and Rowan Kidsilk Haze. Yep, you read that right. I loved this pattern so much that I began to knit it in another colourway (2016 Pantone anyone?!) before I'd even finished the first. 

7. This a Christmas jumper (The Perfect Christmas Jumper by Susan Crawford) that I started four years ago. I've frogged, reknitted, frogged, reknitted ... but will not be beaten. One day, intarsia, I will conquer you. And then put you in a cupboard for 364 days of every year.

Where to begin?!?

Current vibe: In and Out of Love.

My First Bonj.

I don't have a picture of my first knit (a scarf in three shades of purple acrylic), so here's my first Bon Jovi single. Released in '95, with a live version of This Ain't A Love Song as the B-side, I bought this one weekend in HMV and never looked back. The video is pure 90s nostalgia, and reminds me of the seismic shift caused by starting secondary school.

Side effects: trying to appreciate chemo while it's beating the shit out of you.

This first phase of my treatment has involved three types of chemo: Olaparib (tablet), Carboplatin (IV drip), and Paclitaxel (IV drip). I ha...