I don’t like to use the word journey cause to me journey is a pleasurable experience, so this is my Story.
On the 18th December 2012 – I’m very sorry but its cancer. Those words from my GP changed my life forever.
I was diagnosed with a 6.6 multifocal invasive ducted carcinoma in my left breast at 44 years o age. I was the first person in my family to have cancer. I didn’t know too many people that had cancer and those that I did know were old and it killed them. Oh my god am I going to die? I had to get a lot more information, so as any person does, I googled my type of breast cancer. 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and coming from a family with 3 sisters and a mum the odds were there. My first thought was that god it me and not them. Ok let’s get on with this fight and kick cancers arse. In a stunned state I saw the surgeon 2 days after diagnosis. He suggested a mastectomy which I was fine with. Yes, cut it off I don’t want it in me anymore. After consulting with the oncologist in Brisbane they decided they wanted to try a different method of treatment with me. Chemotherapy, surgery then radiation. The usual procedure with most breast cancer patients is surgery, chemo then if needed radiation. Why can’t they just cut it off. At the Base hospital, all the Breast cancer patients are connected with a breast care nurse. Another truly wonderful foundation is the McGrath Foundation. The McGrath Foundation sponsors these fantastic nurses. I don’t think I could have managed my cancer treatment without my beautiful nurse Gaylene. After some great caring advice and a sleepless night, I decided to put my fate in the hands of the professionals. I thought this would all be over in a couple of weeks. Boy I was wrong.
After a brain scan, full body CT full body bone scan, echocardiogram, all done in 2 days, I then had to have surgery to put in a port a cath with is a portable catheter that lies under the skin that the chemo is injected into. My port became my constant companion for quite a long time. After my port surgery I developed blood clots in my arm. The only treatment for these clots was to inject blood thinners into my stomach every morning and night for 8 months. This absolutely terrified me. I thought I can’t do this. As if I haven’t had enough needles now, I’ve got to self-inject myself twice a day into my stomach. My stomach ended up a huge bruise, but you got to do what you got to do.
I had my first chemo treatment 10 days after diagnosis. The day before chemo was blood tests, then chemo then the day after chemo back to the hospital for an antinausea injection yes in the stomach. This was the routine for every round of chemo. My first chemo was extremely daunting. I walked into the oncology room where there was an elderly man and a young woman lying on rather comfy looking chairs. Both bald as badgers with the most welcoming smiles on their faces. Sadly, the elderly man has now passed and the young woman is now one of my dearest friends.
You hear of stories of the side effects from chemo especially being sick and vomiting, so after my first round of chemo with takes about 3 hours of the rat poison to go into your body, I still felt really well. I went shopping, did the usual things I would normally do. What are people whining about chemo, this is alright I can handle this no worries. Second day after chemo, feeling ok a little bit tired but still not that bad. Day 3 oh my god it hit me like a tonne of bricks. That feeling of nausea all the time but not actually throwing up, totally feeling lethargic and that feeling you get when you’ve had that one too many drinks.
Holy crap can I get through this? These were the horrid days and they usually lasted 3 days after chemo for about 2 weeks. I started to feel half human again usually 3 or 4 days before the next round. I had 5 rounds of what us chemo patients called the red devil. There are quite a few side effects from chemo that not everyone suffers but quite a few draw the short straw. These are the ones that I copped. Fatigue, mouth ulcers, dehydration, feeling of nausea, extremely dry skin, the skin peeled off the soles of both my feet, loss of appetite, constant tingling in my hands and feet, extreme bone aches, blurred vision, my eyes constantly wept, loss of my taste buds, loss of hair on every part of my body and my favourite chemo brain.
My hair started falling out after my 2nd does of chemo. I’d brush my hair and clumps would come out in my brush. So, I just didn’t brush my hair hoping to fold onto it for a bit longer, but when I ran my fingers through it was still coming out in greater amounts. I got my husband to drive me to my sister whose is a hairdresser to ger her to shave it all off. I have never felt anything so liberative as to have no hair. I loved being bald and I really rocked scarves and bandanas. Chemo brain another side effect was very strange. I had problems remembering things and my mind was so fuzzy. I remember one night lying in bed and asked my husband to turn down the whirly thing on the roof. I couldn’t remember the word fan. Due to this side effects the oncology nurse recommended I have a diary to right everything down in which I did which made writing my story a lot easier. After finishing the last round of the nasty chemo, I then had to have 4 rounds of the milder chemo called docetaxol. The oncology nurse did warn me that 2 percent of patients react to this chemo and said that with my track record of all the side effects and if anything goes wrong it will happen to Sheri. So, they were watching me carefully. She told me to let them know should I feel anything different once they started the chemo. Not even 10 seconds into chemo I could feel my tongue tingling I started to really sweat and could feel my heart really racing and the room was starting to go black. I had an anaphylactic reaction to the mild chemo. After a frantic phone call to my oncologist in Brisbane it was decided to give me a 2 week break before I was to start on a course of really harsh chemo. This was 4 courses every 2 weeks. My last chemo was on May 16th 2013.
During chemo I still had my regular MRI’s, mammograms, and ultrasounds. One ultrasound I’ll never forget is the one that told us my 6.6cm tumour had shrunk down to 1.1cms. The chemo had done its hob. This all hasn’t been for nothing.
During one of my chemo sessions a young girl was brought into oncology by ambulance. She was in her school uniform, not a hair on her head, her eyes slightly sunken but still so sparky with a massive smile on her face. Not once did she cry when she was poked with needles, she never complained. Now that is the ultimate definition of brave. Whenever I felt really low and thought I can’t do this anymore I always thought of that little girl and many other children that go through this horrid disease we call cancer and thought if they can do it so can I.
20th June 2013 was my surgery day to finally have this intruder removed from my body once and for all. I had to go to Rockhampton in the morning to have a dye injected into my nipple to show the surgeon exactly where the lymph nodes were. This was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt in my life. Then drive back to Gladstone for surgery. Surgery went very well, and the surgeon got a good clearance around the lump and removed 16 lymph nodes which thankfully all came back clear. Thank God the cancer hadn’t spread. I had half my breast removed and have a scar that runs from my nipple to just under my armpit. Because I had so many lymph nodes removed, I will always have to be cautious of lymphedema. This is the swelling of the arm with fluid that has trouble draining through the body because of the reduction of lymph nodes. It is very painful. I do wear a pressure sleeve to help with this condition.
I then had 6 weeks of radiation to go yet. This was hard as I had to stay in Brisbane away from my family for 6 weeks. Radiation itself wasn’t hard. At my initial consultation with the radium specialist, I had four tattoos around my breast that the machine lines up perfectly with to administer the radiation. Radiation goes or only 3 minutes every day of the week. I did get the weekends off. While chemo destroys the cancer cells as well as the good cells through out your whole body, radiation cleans up any stray cells that chemo may have missed targeting just the area where the cancer was. While I was in Brisbane, I stayed at Ellis Lodge which is the Cancer Council lodge. It was like a home away from home and the staff were fantastic. The Cancer council gets no funding from the government and solely relies on the generous donations and fundraising. Many other patients and I stayed at the Cancer Council Lodge at no expense. They also had a minivan to ferry the patients from the lodge to the various treatment facilities around Brisbane all funded by the public generosity. With out this funding a lot of patients would not be able to have the treatment they need. Funds raised for Cancer Council go towards finding a cure not just for breast cancer but for all cancers, treatment for patients, travel and accommodation for patients that are a distance from the necessary treatment facilities. Ten dollars can buy a wig for a patient undergoing treatment and the wigs are supplied free. Having benefitted firsthand from the generosity of donations to the Cancer council I would personally like to thank everyone who has donated to the Cancer council, bought pink ribbon merchandise, and held fundraising events. You and my wonderful medical team literally saved my lift and will save the lives of many others. On 11 September this year I reached 7 years cancer free. My mother was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and is now also cancer free.
Make yourself a promise, have regular mammograms, always check the girls. Early detection is crucial.
I still have regular mammograms, ultrasounds, oncologist, and surgeon appointments. I also take 3 different medications every day and will for the rest of my life, which is nothing because I have a long great life to look forward too.