Breast cancer lesson number 41: The injecting is worth it

Eight has always been my lucky number. And, I am delighted to report, it seems to be not just lucky in life, but lucky in producing life. That’s right, the surgeon and embryologist have managed to extract eight eggs. By lunchtime tomorrow, we should find out how many of these eggs have been turned into embryos. There’s a one in 20 chance it will fail, so let’s hope the odds are in our favour this time after so much bad cancer-related luck.

The egg collection procedure (or what I saw of it) is nothing to fear. First, you arrive in your cubicle, get into a gown, foam slippers and a trendy mesh cap. Then you answer lots of questions, confirm consent and, in my case, pop a quick suppository in (it was either me or the anaesthetist doing this and I could tell by the look on his face that he’d rather it was me doing the honours). I obliged as he was the magic anaesthetist who’d managed to extract blood from me just a week ago.

The procedure room itself is the first theatre-like room I have ever seen (usually I get knocked out in a room nearby so I don’t get to see the monitors, team and sets of scrubs). Due to the fact it’s the first time I have been without my bra and corset for an extended period, they let me position myself on the bed, before attaching heart monitors, oxygen and a cannula. After a little gentle persuasion, the team took enough blood out for themselves and the oncologists so I avoided two blood tests today – and further bruising on my sore-looking left arm. Right arm was off limits as this second band shows.


The last thing I remember is a syringe worth of happy relaxing juice and a further syringe of general anaesthetic. After that, they stuck a needle in my ovaries, extracted the eggs and fed me a nice cocktail of morphine and paracetamol. I was back in my cubicle with a packet of biscuits and a nice cup of tea in no time and, am now back home, back in the corset and rejoicing in the fact stage two is pretty much done. Just have to drink three litres of liquid a day (tea doesn’t count sadly) to flush my system – and wait for that embryo call.

You’d think after all this ovarian stimulation, my body might get a day off. Sadly, the oncologist I met in the morning had other ideas. My ovaries may have been swollen with eggs today for baby-making brilliance but, as of tomorrow morning, they’re going to be shut down completely until August (part of fertility back-up plan part two). Tomorrow morning, a lovely nurse at the hospital will be popping an implant under my tummy skin to release a drug called Zoladex. This clever drug (released over the next four weeks, after which I will need another implant) is designed to send me into a fake menopause. Chemotherapy can’t kill something it thinks is already dead. While I can’t say going through the menopause twice (first time at 32 at the same time as chemo) is particularly attractive (just imagine the combined side effects), if someone gives you the chance to protect you’re ovaries, you’ve got to take it. I will be well-versed in hot flushes when the menopause happens for real, that’s for sure.

As well as putting my body through five Zoladex implants, there was one further drug-related revelation in oncology. It seems that because of the fact the cancer had spread beyond the breast and into tissue surrounding the lymph nodes, I will be taking the anti-oestrogen drug for 10 years rather than five. This means that the end of treatment will be 2024 at the earliest! The good news? We should be able to come off it to try for children before the 10 years is up. Sounds a bit like extreme family planning to me.

With the eggs out, the countdown to chemo is now on. April 2 is D-day (or destruction day) and 31 March the day when the PICC line goes in (meaning four months without blood test needles). Stage three is in sight at last.

So, let’s hope we get those embryos in the freezer and let’s hope cancer doesn’t take another chunk out of my femininity. Having taken my boob, it’s already got its eyes on my hair!

Breast cancer lesson number two: No matter how tough it gets, there is no excuse for criminal behaviour

Ok, so ‘criminal behaviour’ might be a bit strong, but absentmindedly walking out of a Camden café without paying for a cup of tea before the MRI scan is not my usual style! (Having said that, being presented with tea in a cafetiere is enough to send anyone into shock!)

The MRI scan is not something I thought would ever make a blog post. While clever in determining the size and scope of the cancer (the ultrasound suggested it was an ill-defined highly suspicious mass measuring 28mm), strong magnetic fields and radio waves are not exactly the stuff of headline news. For anyone who has had one, lying still as you head into a long tube with earphones on is a pretty simple procedure – if you’re not me that is!

My history with the ‘simple’ procedure is chequered to say the least. This has nothing to do with my ability to lie still, but the injection part, where they put contrast dye into the body. I was kind enough to let a student practice on my hip back in 2006. This was a decision I immediately regretted when they injected the wrong part of my leg with the dye and I had to wait another three months for them to try again.

Convinced that lightning wouldn’t strike twice, I turned up after a client meeting (alone again, but will say nothing about my inability to learn from ‘lesson number one’) and was expecting to be in and out in no time. I was initially amused by the fact no one (not me, a GP, a consultant nor the radiographer) could work out the true ‘day one’ of my ‘cycle’ (and still can’t for that matter). I was also amused by the fact the man before me had the deepest combat trouser pockets I had ever seen and spent at least five minutes emptying them of coins and other bits of metal.

The amusement started to subside, however, when I was faced with my old friend Mr cannula! I have great veins, a high pain threshold and haven’t a clue what fainting feels like, so was still smiling when the first one went in – until it wouldn’t flush.

I was laughing and describing my engagement ring to the surrounding party of nurses when the second one went in. All looked good and I lay face down on the rather odd breast scanner bed (one nurse joked that you could tell it had been invented by a man as it looks more like a torture device than a bed).

I now know why they give you one of those buzzers to press in case of problems. As soon as the contrast dye went in, my left arm really started to hurt. I was soon pressing the ‘I want to get out of here’ button like it was going out of fashion. I was initially comforted for being brave until they realised they were filling my arm (rather than my veins) with the stuff.

I have always wanted to know what I’d look like with bodybuilder arms. Now I know – and it wasn’t pretty. Determined to see it through, however, we tried to get two more cannulas into me. On the fourth attempt in a vein on my wrist, it worked! Thanks have to go to the amazingly talented and patient nurses and radiographers who worked so hard to complete the procedure, even when my body didn’t want to play ball. 

There’s one form you certainly don’t want to see after an MRI: Patient advice in the event of extravasation. Sounds rather exciting, but it just means your arm is full of dye (and a bit larger than normal). I wish now I had taken a picture (photos will start soon when I am up to date). Let’s just say, it’s amazing how much work can be achieved with your arm in the air! Thankfully, my oversized bingo wing started to go down after a few hours of massage so no trip to A&E was required.

For those of you who are now worried that my moral compass is broken, do not despair. Having identified my crime in the hospital waiting room, I immediately texted my wonderful colleague Laura, who contacted the café. While I don’t think she will ever thank me for the conversation that followed (and the ridicule), she did confirm that the true cost of the tea was about 5p and the café could cope. Starting to think it would have been a bigger crime if I had paid, given the mark up!