Mary shares her cancer diary: Part Two - Preparing for surgery

Mary Brookes, 52, was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in January 2016. She documented her ups and downs to share with her friends, and now she’s sharing titbits from her journal and chemo diary with you.

<< Part 1: Diagnosis

13th January

I had my first appointment with my breast surgeon this morning. Erica is lovely, and made me feel comfortable straight away. The first thing I noticed when we sat down were the underlined words on the notes on her desk - “Grade 3”. I immediately freaked out – what did this mean? I was told Stage Two! Erica calmly told me not to panic, and explained that yes, I was Stage Two but Grade 3 which means aggressive – bugger.

Once I had calmed down, Erica explained that I would need a mastectomy of my left breast plus removal of some lymph nodes followed by radiotherapy and chemo. Another blow - I had still been hoping for a lumpectomy and maybe radiation or chemo, but not everything. More tears, I think it’s going to take a while before I am used to that thought. At least with the breast gone the cancer would be gone too.

The next step is for my samples to be checked for markers to determine what type of breast cancer I have – who knew there is more than one type of breast cancer? Erica wants me to have a CT scan, which we booked for tomorrow, and a bone scan.

After the initial shock I have it all sorted, it is going to be fine. I hadn’t been given anything I can’t handle – something my dear friend Debbie always told me. I know I can beat this and will be well again. It’s strange, because I don’t fell ill at all – I just have this small issue with cancer that will soon be gone.

14th January

CT scan – Peter was busy so Caroline took me. I had 20 minutes to drink a very large glass of white liquid which tasted vaguely tropical, then the technician (Mark) would be back to take me for my scan. Mark sat me down to explain the process and finished by saying that as the dye is pumped in I would feel a flush of warmth through my body and would probably feel like I had wet myself. He assured me it was extremely unlikely I would actually wet myself – none of his patients had!

I lay on the bed and he did the baseline scan, then put the line in for the dye.

Oh my goodness, I know I had been warned, but I couldn’t believe the rush of warmth through my body. It was so intense and then - oh no, have I wet myself? The feeling was overwhelming. I lay there thinking about how embarrassing it would be to be the one person who actually wet themselves! As the scan finished the sensation passed – relief! - I could relax. I hadn’t wet myself.

On the way home Caroline and I discussed what would be happening and I have asked her to keep it between ourselves for the time being. I’m not ready for everyone at work to know, I think I want to know what’s actually ahead of me before everyone knows.

I had the rest of the day off and used the time to get myself organized for this weekend’s Show Jumping Show. Very busy weekend ahead being Show Secretary. The committee had asked if I was ok to continue with the role considering the news, however, nothing has really changed at the moment, I don’t feel unwell and I don’t want to let anyone down.

17th January

This weekend has been flat out- it’s been great to keep busy, but it’s also been hard dealing with people that I have spent many weekends with over the last few years. Peter has told most of our show jumping friends - I think he just needs to share it and is finding this tougher than I am. There have been lots of unexpected hugs and people telling me “you’ll be fine.”

One of the hardest things this weekend was when Mel came to the office. She wanted to know my secret, and said that I looked fabulous - what had I been doing? She said I looked so healthy and relaxed, and it made me feel great and I wasn’t sure whether to tell her or not. Fortunately Hannah went outside and told Mel what was going on. Mel then quietly came back into the office and just gave me a big hug didn’t say anything other than if I need anything to give her a call. Not saying anything else was perfect. She didn’t concentrate on the cancer, just made it clear that she is there if I need anything.

I am glad the weekend is over- it’s been great to be doing something I enjoy but tough being treated with kid gloves, I really just want everything to be normal.

18th January

Bone scan today - at 11 am I had the injection of radioactive material then had to be back at 2 pm for the scan. I had to drink at least 1 litre of water to help flush the radioactive material into my bones. Jess the technician was lovely and very relaxed. There was no stripping off for this one - just hop on the bed. The scan took about 20 minutes and although noisy was fine. I closed my eyes and just practiced my breathing – I actually found it quite relaxing and would have probably fallen asleep if it had been longer. Jess told us straight away that everything looked normal – nothing to worry about. The full results will be sent to Erica and my GP. Peter and I headed home and I went to bed shattered. I think everything has caught up with me.

20th January

The lovely Caroline came to the office today and took me to lunch which was an excellent distraction to everything that is going on. My GP rang me after lunch to check how I was and asked whether I had been given my results. When I replied I hadn’t she was very pleased to tell me everything was clear, the cancer hadn’t spread just those lymph nodes and breast. I rang Peter who was more relieved than me.

It’s strange, but I hadn’t for a moment thought that the cancer had spread - but Peter had feared the worst. We celebrated with fish and chips at the beach with the girls. I am so very lucky.

21st January

Peter and I went back to see Erica today, keen to get the next part of the journey started. My cancer is HER2 positive early breast cancer which apparently responds very well to chemotherapy, thank goodness; this wasn’t expected as at my age breast cancer is more likely due to hormones. The tumour is approximately 4.5 cms in size - amazing I hadn’t noticed it sooner, I don’t exactly have big breasts!

Erica explained that I would have 6 cycles of chemotherapy followed by the surgery and then radiotherapy. So the next step is book an appointment to see the oncologist. I will have a small clip inserted into the tumour before the chemo starts - apparently the tumour is likely to shrink a great deal and it may be hard to find when it’s time for the surgery. I am also to have a porta-cath inserted under general anesthetic which will make the administration of the chemo drugs easier particularly as I will continue to have Herceptin for several months.

25th January

Had the “clip” inserted today under ultrasound guidance. It wasn’t painful, it just felt like a ping from an elastic band. Things are moving quite quickly but it feels good to be getting things sorted.

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