I keep having to remind myself that I am coming up to my 5 year anniversary of being diagnosed with Stage 1V Breast Cancer. It is not something to wildly celebrate but it is something to acknowledge with huge gratefulness, along with a feeling of un-realness, since 80% of people diagnosed with Stage 1V breast cancer die within 5 years. That is quite a sobering statistic. My condition at best is described as “treatable” and at worst “terminal”. When my oncologist told me recently that I was only one of a handful of his patients alive with Stage 4 after 5 years – he really meant it – you could count them on one hand.
I have journeyed through all the mental and psychological “sorting out” of preparing for an early death, and now I don’t think about it too often (perhaps because I have come to terms with the possibility). Yet, when I do think about it, again, it feels really surreal, almost dreamlike. It comes and goes, fleeting across my radar from time to time- times like now – a 5 year marker.
I have tried very hard to not define myself by my cancer, and take new steps every day. I have been having treatment every 3 weeks at my clinic in London. This month we have been able to make the rather momentus decision to have 2 out of my 3 treatments at home. My home treatments will be given by a 5 minute injection in my leg (it stings like a bee!) – instead of intravenously, as before. To put it simply – instead of having 18 treatments per year at my clinic, I will now have only 6, and the other 12 will in the comfort of my home – can you imagine? What a huge positive change. And how is this for poingnancy ? – the first treatment that begins at home is 5 years to the day that I was diagnosed.
In order to continue with this new type of delivery, my portocath will be removed – again – another milestone. It is hugely symbolic for me. I have had my portocath for 5 years – it has become part of my body, part of my being, my “noo-noo”, my “blanky” – and weirdly I have felt safe with it. I find myself touching it momentarily, just to make sure it is still there. I feel very attached to it, like it is some sort of mystical life saving device – which I suppose it has been. At least it has been the channel for the medicines that have, indeed, saved my life. The only downside is having another general anaesthetic and my breast sliced into yet again, but I feel it is worth it for the pay-off.
Now when I go to my clinic, I will still need intravenous drugs but we will just access via the vein as I only need this one every 9 weeks. Previously, I felt that it would be tempting fate to get rid of my portocath, – I couldn’t bear the thought of getting a bad result on my CT and Pet Scans sometime in the future, and having to be operated on again and for it to be put back in. But I am going to take that chance, take that leap and enjoy every day, minute and hour.
Although my treatment has not been changed – the way it is being delivered is. And I am truly in awe of these amazing steps in cancer oncology. I know I will feel a lot freer, and I am hoping that as my extraordinary situation becomes more and more of a a normality, that I will be able to think about my cancer even less than I do now, and to be comforted with the fact that more and more people like me are “living” with this disease than “dying” of it. Chapeau to all the wonderful nurses, doctors, oncologists, scientists, surgeons, researchers and support staff in Cancerville.