Thursday, 6 February 2014

The New News: Hair today and bald tomorrow

Thirteen days ago some highly skilled people injected me with a combination of drugs that made me unconscious and kept me like that while other highly skilled people cut me open in two places, put their hands inside the cuts, and took pieces out of my body.  Some of the bits they took out were located by earlier injecting me with radioactive material, and then using a small geiger counter, ticking away like an insane watch, to trace what they were looking for: the sentinel lymph gland in my armpit. 
Then, while the surgeon was rummaging in my breast for the original lump, some other highly skilled people with astonishingly advanced equipment studied the gland to see whether this cancer I’ve got had spread. It had, and so they concluded the operation by removing all thirteen lymph glands from my armpit. Then they sewed up both the cuts they had made,  and I was awake and back home by 8 that same evening.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made” says the psalmist. Yes, the fearfulness quotient is increased when one has cancer, and knowing that it had spread as far as my lymph glands ratchets up the fearfulness considerably. The lymph appears to be a kind of distribution network for the body, with the lymph glands as the central sorting office from which unpleasant parcels of tumour cells can be dispatched to all locations. If it has reached there, where else has it got to?
So, two days ago, more radioactive material was pumped into my arm and a few hours later (I made a flying visit to the Norfolk Community History Club in the meantime) I lay fully clothed but with empty pockets on a gurney while a flat screen in a box hanging from a gantry clanked and crunkled its way very very slowly from my head to my toes. It started off about a centimetre above my nose, so close that the cross-hairs on the black screen blurred out of focus, and made adjustments (clunk) and shifts (crunkle) as it edged along to keep the same distance throughout. The point of this was to scan my bones, which the radioactive material would show up, in order to find out whether any cancer cells had set up shop there.
Now, bone cancer is easily the most frightening possibility I’ve had to contemplate so far, in this little vortex of “how bad can it get?” that we have been living in since December. Bone cancer is pretty fucking bad. So it’s extremely pleasing to report that the scan shows I don’t have it. (It shows I’ve got arthritic knees, but that I knew already).  Hurrah.  (Amazing how one’s perspective changes: in October 2013 I’d have been horrified to be told I had cancer: by February 2014 I’m delighted not to have a worse one).
This pleasing news was delivered to me yesterday by Mr Pain, the wonderfully-named surgeon who did the lymph and breast cancer removal. He’s wrongly named, too, because not only are the scars extremely neat and unobtrusive, I’ve had surprisingly little pain and my arm is fine (there’s sometimes loss of movement after lymph removal, but not for me).
Since then he’s been looking at the bits he cut out, or talking to the people who have, and the news is not so bad. 3 out of 13 lymph glands had cancer cells, and I still have to have a CT scan to check that those busy little distribution centres haven’t distributed them anywhere else. The cancer itself was about the size of the top joint of my thumb: it was medium aggressive, and responsive to oestrogen, which means, as I’d already been told, I’ll have to take an oestrogen blocker - but that it should help.
First though I’m going to have to have chemotherapy, starting quite soon. It’s going to make me feel like crap, I’m probably going to lose my hair, and we can’t go to New York in March as we planned, dammit. But it has a good chance of killing off the remaining cancer cells lurking about the place. After that I’ll have radiation on my breasts, and an oestrogen blocker to take for the rest of my days. 
But - and this is important - we’re still in the territory signposted “curable”.
So quite soon, probably before the end of this month, I’m going to cut all my hair off and shave my head. 
My hair is, at this present moment, waist length, last cut by someone other than myself in September 1985, when Sarah Peters trimmed my fringe for me before a job interview, and it will be strange to be without it. I was last bald in 1960, when I was a few months old, and I suspect my nut on my shoulders will look like a pea balanced on a drum, but there it is. It may regrow some day, though it will quite likely come through white this time.
Oddly enough, shaving my head has been a fantasy of mine for some years. I intend to keep my hair, plait it, and sew it into hats and things. 
I may also get a tattoo on my scalp, just for kicks. 
Gotta do something.


Brian Borgford said...

Well written, as expected, of course. But very scary. Get well soon. Brian

mcqsarah said...

Hang on in there Sarah. Glad that the bones are clear and that only 3 of the lymph nodes were affected. 01225 867240 for a chat sometime as it is hard to write in public sometimes xxxx