Breast cancer lesson number 39: Timing is everything!

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This is it. Inside this box is the last injection I have to administer myself as part of the fertility process (we won’t talk about the chemo-related ones just yet). No more Menopur. No more Cetrotide. Just two Letrozole anti-cancer pills and an injection stand between me and being able to have my eggs collected at 3.30pm on Monday.

Ovitrelle is a trigger injection. It stimulates the final maturation of eggs in the ovaries. That means, once I have jabbed myself with this last needle, there is no going back. I will be on the slab on Monday and, with any luck, we’ll have embryos in the freezer soon after that. The procedure to extract these eggs is something I have just read about (although wish I hadn’t) and is something I will not be reporting here. Ok, so it’s not on a par with having your stomach cut open and the boob chopped off, but I am glad I am asleep for it. If curiosity is getting the better of you, click here for the science, but please don’t ever bring it up over dinner! 

For the trigger to be effective, timing is everything. So, mum will be keeping me company tonight until 2am when I can deliver the final and important dose (she might get to watch Les Mis from start to finish as a treat). Then I get a day off drugs tomorrow (my body will probably go into shock), a light breakfast of tea and toast at 6am on Monday and a date with a cannula and some IV sedation later that day.

Of course, when the nurse called, I had my priorities right. One, what do I do with the sharps box of syringes that is currently making the kitchen look untidy? Two, what to do with all the leftover drugs in the fridge? (Sadly the answer in both cases is to bring them with us, which means we’ll be heading to oncology looking like a portable pharmacy or like we’re about to have a picnic in the waiting room. Let’s hope I get to keep the cold bag!). Three, if I’m at the hospital all day, when do I take my suppository? (There was a lot of laughter attached to that answer and you really don’t want to know more). And four, (arguably the most important question) can I have a glass of wine with dinner? I am glad to report, I got a whole-hearted ‘absolutely’ in response! (Better set the phone alarm for 1.55am just in case)!

There is one last – and rather unexpected – obstacle to overcome in this fertility challenge. It’s brown, it has a tail and it likes to enter our kitchen at night and camp out under the dishwasher. We’ve being trying to get rid of our visiting rat for nearly two weeks, but we do have an understanding that we just don’t enter its trap-filled and Nutella-fuelled lair at night. With refrigerated drugs to take, I think I may have to take a torch and some back-up if I stand a chance of getting to the pre-filled syringe without getting nibbled.

Oh yes, don’t think just because you get cancer, you can avoid first world problems. I have a list!

One last needle, one last shot of drugs and one chance to make embryos. Cancer won’t wait for a second cycle. We have everything crossed!

Breast cancer lesson 33: Smile even harder when things don’t go according to plan

It’s Sunday morning. Most weeks, I would be enjoying a leisurely lie-in and a lovingly-prepared cup of tea while putting the world – and the week – to rights. On this morning, however, I have had to go to hospital to make sure I don’t have dangerous levels of hormones running through my body. Thanks cancer, first you take my boob and now you’re going after my lie-ins!

It was supposed to be a blood test. And, it certainly started like a normal blood test. Left arm tick. Needle tick. Rubber band to bring up veins tick. Lovely smiley lady in scrubs who called me ‘darling’, tick. Only thing missing? The actual veins.

With right arm (otherwise known as obedient blood giving arm) now permanently out of action due to risk of lymphoedema, left arm is left in charge. Trouble is, left arm doesn’t like to play by the rules… Ever!

So, here’s what happened on my Sunday morning (before my morning cup of tea).

1) Smiley lady preps left arm and starts tapping. Nothing.
2) Smiley lady tries in three places to draw blood from my elusive veins. Nothing.
3) Smiley lady asks whether she can try my leg. I say: ‘go in anywhere. I have a high pain threshold’.
4) I, dutifully, start taking my jeans off. Smiley lady points out that by leg, she meant ankle, so no undressing required. Oops!
5) Smiley lady heads to my ankle. All I can think of is the fact I should have shaved more closely as it looks a bit hairy.
6) Ankle does not play ball.
7) Smiley lady looks less smiley as she asks me to sit outside and drink six cups of water and rub my hands together.
8) I head to the watercooler, realising that I didn’t do my jeans up properly after the aborted undressing attempt. Quick adjustment required.
9) I drink eight cups of water for good measure and look like I am rubbing my hands together in front of a fire. To others in the waiting room, I look like I have ants in my pants. I look weird. I am now the weirdo in the waiting room.
10) I need the loo. I cross my legs.
11) I go to the loo. Oops!
12) Smiley lady, rejuvenated by my epic water drinking, tries again. Four times. Nothing.
13) Smiley lady not smiley any more. I just feel bad that I haven’t been the perfect patient. My smiling looks a bit misplaced. My mind goes straight to the chemo nurses, the blood tests and the cannulas all waiting for me in the next round.
14) No more needles. Just another appointment tomorrow first thing with the anaesthetist. I have been upgraded from weirdo in the waiting room to annoying Monday morning patient with an arm that doesn’t play ball. Lucky anaesthetist!
15) I leave hospital with instructions to keep injecting (while still wondering about my hormone levels). And, guess what? It’s two injections for me today, not one. First Menopur, now Cetrotide wants in on the action!

By the way, if you’re wondering where everyone is on a Sunday morning in London, I’ve found them. They’re in the Assisted Conception Unit, watching me be a weirdo.

So, thank you cancer. You took my lie-in, you took my boob and, because you decided to spread out into my lymph nodes too, you took my right arm (for blood taking purposes).

My left arm looks like a dot to dot. My bladder feels like it has been abused (the body corset isn’t helping) and I really need a cup of tea. But, you know what? Even though I had the burning desire to start wailing in the waiting room, I didn’t. Every time you knock me, I’m going to dust myself off and come back fighting. Just let me have the tea first!