There’s only one thing (if you’re me!) to do when you’ve been given shite news…and that is HIT THE DRINK!!! Me and one of my besties hit Belfast hard a couple of weeks after my CA125 results to drown our sorrows and have a life-reaffirming day. I was determined to pack in as much living as I possibly could while I was waiting for my ct scan…plus I really do love cocktails and great craic with my mates! The Ovarian Ladies met up again – and it was great to catch up with them. ‘A’ was back on carbo/taxol as she had only got 4 months break after her chemo ended before her CA125 shot up again. She had been put on caelyx but a scan had shown it wasn’t working so she’d had to say turrah to her hair and hello to her wig again. Thankfully, this combo was doing the trick and she was in great form. ‘A2’ had recovered well from her second line of chemo (a “line” is the term used for a set of – usually 6 – chemos) and was looking and feeling well – seeing how well these ladies were coping during and after more chemo gave me a lot of hope for whatever was next for me. We all had a great afternoon as always…I always smile for the rest of the day after meeting up with these ladies – and that’s without any cocktails in me!!
The ct scan was booked for Valentine’s Day…so Neil took the day off and we planned to go for more cocktails afterwards. Unfortunately I ended up only having one with my meal after my scan as I was starving and feeling pretty grim after drinking that dirty dishwater…plus the nurse doing my scan said I’d need plenty of water, not alcohol, to flush the contrast agents out of my system. Bugger!
Around this time in mid-Feb, Target Ovarian Cancer shared my story to help raise awareness and I also did my first-ever blog for them about how much their Being Together Day had a positive impact on me. I was delighted to be able to do what I could to raise the profile of this “silent killer” and hope that all my hollering about the symptoms will have helped get at least one woman diagnosed earlier and have a much better prognosis than far too many of us with this disease. I also recorded a couple of videos for Action Cancer, talking about the symptoms of ovarian cancer in one (I shared this one on Mother’s Day in March 2017 – a fitting day to highlight the symptoms, plus it was Ovarian Cancer awareness month too) and the other video was about the Peer Mentoring service. It’s worth watching just to see how totally daft my hairdo now was – the chemo curls were getting too hard to control most days!!!
I had to wait just over 2 weeks for my scan results…so I hit Belfast again (sure I only live once!!) with another of my besties for more cocktails and a wee bit of retail therapy. Soon enough my appointment with my oncologist rolled around. Needless to say, me and Neil were a bag of nerves in that waiting room. I tried my best to keep my thoughts in check – I was pretty convinced I was having a recurrence – but there was a wee glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, something else had caused the jump in my CA125 numbers. That wee glimmer of hope disappeared when I was called in to see oncologist 2. I gave her a big hug as I knew how upset she had been losing J too and we had a wee chat about us ladies/eejits getting our tattoos and about how the Ovarian Ladies were making a big difference to each other’s lives and mental well-being. She was delighted with the Belfast Telegraph article and had proudly shown it off in the hospital the day it came out. She then turned the computer screen towards me and it was time to get down to business. She confirmed that, yes, I did have a couple of tiny spots of recurrent disease (awwww bollocks!!) – one was in a lymph node deep down in the left hand side of my groin and another in my peritoneum (the “packing tissue” which surrounds our abdominal organs)…she assured me that I wouldn’t even know they were there (I didn’t!) and that – as I had no symptoms – I wouldn’t be getting second-line chemo just yet. I was going on “watch and wait” where I’d have a scan every 3 months to keep an eye on what the shitty cancer was up to and I was also to keep an eye out for any symptoms in the meantime. I was disappointed and relieved all at the same time…my cancer had returned roughly 10 months after my treatment had finished BUT I had been given a 3 month reprieve at least before I needed further chemo. Neil wanted to know only one thing…should we book a holiday over Easter or wait until the summer? Oncologist 2 replied “Book one for Easter…and if all’s still well, book another one in the summer!”. Fecking good idea! My bloods were taken for another CA125 test (I never asked for the results, I had stopped wanting to know those numbers as they only added to my distress and anxiety) and me and Neil left to go and break the news to our family and friends.
Our kids took the news OK. There were a few tears but nowhere near the weeping and wailing that had been done when I was first diagnosed. The rest of my family were bewildered by this watching and waiting business…if there were only 2 wee spots of disease, why couldn’t I be operated on to remove them? I tried to explain as best I could that these were the only 2 VISIBLE spots…chances were that there were other microscopic spots of disease still growing in there that wouldn’t be removed in an op…and an op might cause the microscopic cells to be spread about further and go buck daft! Plus, the whole point of watch and wait is to give the patient more time to enjoy their lives without the upset of more chemo…the oncologists are weighing up the quality of our lives…and if the patient doesn’t have any symptoms, then they are left alone and just kept a close eye on. I was happy enough with this decision…plus we now had an Easter holiday to get booked!!
I was back in work the next day to let my workmates know (I’d texted a few of them the day before to give them the heads up)…they were all disappointed for me but thankfully they’d all been expecting this news so were well-prepared for me walking in and needing all the hugs I could get! I was also just so relieved that I got to keep working away for another 3 months – that would take me up to the end May/start of June before my next scan and results. That’d be nearly a whole school year under my belt!
We took the kids out for a shopping spree in Belfast that Saturday and let Elliot loose in his favourite all-you-can-eat restaurant (I’m pretty sure that place suffered a loss in profits that day!). It was a lovely weekend, full of love and fun and – even though I knew my cancer was definitely back – I was now a lot calmer again as I knew what was going on inside me and that if I kept feeling OK, then that meant I was OK.
That week, I took a day off work and went along to Action Cancer’s Drop-in coffee morning, chatted away to some other cancer patients and my lovely mentor-trainer was relieved to see me. “You really are OK aren’t you?!” she said when we got a second to ourselves. “Yeah, I really am!” I said, smiling. “I’m too busy and determined to have a good time to spend a second moping about this recurrence. Whatever happens, happens and no amount of me gurning will change that!” When I got home I was delighted to see that not one but 2 of our Ovarian Ladies (Alison and A2) were featured in that day’s Belfast Telegraph telling their stories. Us ladies really were on a mission to raise as much awareness as possible!
The following Saturday saw me and Neil sitting in our local travel agents booking our holiday. We didn’t want to go too far away and thought mainland Spain would be perfect. So we booked a week in Estepona on the Costa del Sol. Something for us to look forward to!! It was only just over 3 weeks away and I had plenty of other exciting things planned for the coming weeks to keep me busy until then!
I had a lovely Mother’s Day with Neil and the kids – we went out for a curry the night before and I spent the Sunday morning getting my usual breakfast in bed and then immersing my feet into my new foot spa – bliss! Father’s Days have been tough for the last few years since my dad died of cancer in 2013 (I’m actually sitting writing this on Father’s Day) and now I couldn’t help thinking if this was my last Mother’s Day I’d get to spend with my kids. I was learning that because of this shitty recurrence, special days like Mother’s Day would leave me feeling a little bit more fragile as I couldn’t help pondering my own existence and wondering how long I really do have left. Thankfully, I banished those thoughts as quickly as I could…that way madness truly does lie!!
For my next trick, me and one of my cocktail-guzzling besties had a fun few days lined up. First of all, we both went and got tattoos – I got my wrist done with my “Life is Sweet” tattoo (see the pic below), complete with a couple of cupcakes and plenty of teal in it! Another permanent reminder for me to look at every day and remember to enjoy every day! My mate got her foot tattooed and I’m afraid I laughed way too much every time the needle hit a nerve and she jumped! The finished tattoo was gorgeous though and worth all that pain! Her foot is very sexy now! (Not saying it wasn’t sexy before…it’s just much sexier now!!)
The same bestie has her birthday at the start of April so 4 of us had booked an overnight stay at Galgorm resort which has a fab thermal village and spa. Oh my word, it was fab!! Lots of drinkies, walking around in our swimsuits and dressing gowns supplied by the resort, yummy, yummy food, lots of lazing about on heated loungers and water beds and popping into a hydrotherapy pool, hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms and even a freezing cold ice room (great for my hot flushes!!) and because we stayed the night, we got to do it all over again the next day!! I came home feeling on top of the world!
I really had to get my arse in gear and get packing as our holiday was fast approaching. I was excited and nervous about getting on a plane again…last time I’d flown all my symptoms had hit me like a ton of bricks. What if the same thing happened again?? Thankfully, I needn’t have worried and we had a great week. We didn’t do too much – went shopping into Estepona and Marbella on a couple of days but mostly stayed in and around our apartment. The pool was fecking freezing as it was only April but I still managed to do plenty of handstands in it (my favourite holiday pastime – yep, I am that big an eejit!). By the end of the holiday, I was getting pretty morose as I couldn’t help thinking that this might be the last foreign holiday I got to go on…even though I managed to stay upbeat most days, thoughts like this are sometimes unavoidable when you’ve got an incurable cancer diagnosis. I just had to keep shaking those dark thoughts off and concentrate on the fun I was having with my wee family!
So the pics this time are of me enjoying a gorgeous pear martini on one of my cocktail sessions in Belfast, a selection of our holiday pics (including my mad chemo curls in all their glory in one pic and Elliot using a fountain to good “artistic effect” in another pic – look closely and you’ll see what I mean!!) and my “Life is Sweet” tattoo…the nurse who usually does my scans these days knows exactly who I am just from that tattoo!