Since I last sat down to write about what this horrendous curveball life has thrown at me has done, I’ve gone through a lot. Physically, mentally and especially emotionally. It’s actually been quite difficult to process what has and is continuing to happen to the normal life I once knew as a then, 20 year old young woman. Therefore, I want to give you all an update into how I’m going, feeling and the next steps I am taking to get back to being that ‘normal’ (if I’ll ever be that again) 21 year old girl. Let me tell you, it’s been an absolute shit fight and I’ve spent way too many times in hospital beds, crying, hurting and wanting to know why the fuck life just wouldn’t give me a break.
After the loss of my hair, I was faced with the huge decision whether to have a lumpectomy and removal of some lymph nodes under my right arm or to have a possible double mastectomy. Here I am, sitting across from my surgeon thinking “you’re going to chop of what?! At 21?!... this CANNOT fucking be happening”. Thankfully, it was up to me to make the final decision as to what to do with my surgery, as more chemo and then radiation was planned. I opted for having a lumpectomy (removal of my tumour on my right breast) and to remove some lymph nodes from under my right arm. Let. Me. Tell. You. I didn’t want my nice 21-year-old boobies going anywhere if I didn’t have a 100% guarantee that this bastard of a cancer wasn’t going to return. So, for now they’re going to stay in bra’s that make me feel sexy, and confidant like a 21-year-old woman should. We can cross that other bridge shall we ever come to it.
Now, I believe to undergo any surgery is a terrifying thought. Regardless of what you’re having done. I face many fears when going into theatre. So much so, that I beg the nurses to let my Dad come all the way into the anaesthetic bay with me just to hold my hand. I’m terrified of what they will find. So many scary thoughts run through my mind constantly. The struggles that I battled most with at this time, was wondering if any more cancer was to be found and if so, what was the next step? I needed answers. Reassurance. Fucking anything to know that I’m not going to die at 21 years old.
I woke up that night after a successful surgery extremely sore from where they had removed the large tumour in my right breast and the lymph nodes. Thankfully, there were no drainage bags to worry about, just pain. Surgical pain is one thing, but for me. When I’m operated on, especially after finishing chemo, my bone pain instantly comes back. This was something I dealt with A LOT. With a huge thank you to the wonderful nurses on the oncology ward at Pindara. These women have become my friends. They’ve shut the door and sat with me as I’ve cried multiple times. They’ve listened to my worries and concerns as I look around the ward to only see people 30+ years my senior walking the corridors and wondered ‘why me?’. I am so grateful for these women who come to work every day to a job that is so emotionally and psychically taxing and still manage to make little old me feel like I can get through just one more day.
As I sat in my surgeon’s office a week or two later during my recovery of surgery, I was faced with yet another challenge. My biopsy results of the tumour and the 4 lymph nodes removed had returned. They had existing cancer cells in them, even after all of the chemo and heartache I had been through.
I’m crying now re-living this moment whilst putting it onto paper. “When will all over this be over? When can I be the 21 year old ‘normal’ girl I so long to be?” I wailed out. We now had to re-think my treatment plan, and it was something that I am still finding really difficult to accept and understand why this couldn’t just be a little bit easier on me. The week long hospital stays, the reactions to chemo, spending my 21st from a hospital room. To now, finding more cancer cells.
I genuinely felt like I’d put in all this hard work, and really pushed myself mentally and psychically only to find out that it wasn’t quite enough. I had to find a deeper strength within me to continue. So, in true Bianca form. I did just that.
The revised plan was to now have 4 rounds of EC chemotherapy over an 8 week period. This was all due to the severity of the drug and the ramifications it could possibly have upon the functioning of my healthy heart. I later found out that this was known as the “Red Devil Chemo”.
And well, fuck me. Didn’t it live up to its name.
As I sat in the chemo chair with my Dad beside me holding my hand, as he has my entire life, especially through my cancer journey. We looked towards the ‘E’ part of the EC treatment. Epirubicin. The bastard was bright red in colour, sat in four giant syringes and manually needed to be pushed through my portacath by the nurses due to its severity. I was even told this shit was that strong that it was going to make my urine bright red?! Talk about having a ‘What the fuck’ kind of moment!? I knew this next 8 weeks of treatment was going to be hard, but nothing could prepare me for the trepidation I was feeling on this particular day. It was a really strange feeling, because for me; chemo had become a normal process. I felt like I’d figured my shit out. To the point where I knew what were my worst days, and my best ones. This, however, was an unknown drug to my body and with unknown side effects.
The oncology nurse sat with me and began to push through the first syringe of Epirubicin. Towards the end of the first syringe, I began to feel quite severe chest pain and feel nauseated. A haematologist who happened to be there whilst my particular oncologist was busy, suggested that we cease treatment considering I had side effects and reactions to my previous chemotherapy drug, Taxol.
I wasn’t having that. I was so damn determined to push through this first round of chemo, because for me. I was one chemo treatment closer to being better. In being honest with you all, I felt like absolute shit and my heart was genuinely hurting. The doctor gave me 30 minutes to cease the treatment and see if I could get my vitals back to where they should be, see if my nausea had stopped and my heart was no longer hurting. 30 mins passed and I felt better! In a really strange way, I was excited to get it started again because mentally I’d be closer to getting better. I restarted my treatment only to then be rushed via ambulance to hospital where I spent the next 7 days recovering due to severe chest pain. It’s an absolutely terrifying feeling having your family shoved into a corner of a hospital room as doctors and nurses rush in to ultimately try and save your life when there is a MET call on you, after having all your vitals drop. It was scary, devastating and made me realise how quickly things can turn to shit.
After this ordeal, I was told that my heart and overall immune system could no longer handle any more chemotherapy. So, as the doctors tossed up what other treatment they could substitute in, I was left with no other option than to do a full lymph node clearance of my right arm. A procedure I was extremely hesitant about, one that would restrict me from many things and would leave me at a high risk of developing lymphedema. Although, I was left with no other option. I was to have the surgery immediately to reduce my risk of any rouge cancer cells spreading elsewhere to my body and well, you know… Give me more cancer. I kept trying to weigh out the options. Did I want to have this surgery with the increased risk of lymphedema – something that would be a permanent reminder to myself and possibly others that I once battled this cancer. Or take that risk and hope for the best, in all that the word means. Free of cancer cells in the existing lymph nodes, and a higher chance of survival if the cancer were to return again. I know it seems like an easy answer, but at 21; it really isn’t. It took me 2 weeks to come to the final decision, and with lots of encouragement; it was the better option I opted for.
So 4 weeks ago, I underwent the surgery. It was painful, frustrating and meant that I would be out of action for a lot longer than I once thought. No heavy lifting, no swimming in hot spa’s or even having a simple bath. All of which I have to be cautious of for the rest of my days. It’s a shit feeling. Having to worry about things that I quite literally, did not even bat an eyelid at prior to this bastard of a disease. The physio appointments, the drainage bags (which may I add, are really fucking awkward to hide when you’re out in public!?) Kudos to the strong individuals that battle with that alone each and every day, regardless of their situation. The late night visits to emergency because the drainage bag started leaking, the pain killers and the uncomfortable night’s sleep. To put it nicely, this is not easy.
Now, I am to undergo radiation therapy daily over an intensive 6 week period. So instead of wondering what I’m going to be wearing to all the Christmas events, or who my NYE kiss might be; I’ll continue to fight and do everything it’s going to take so that I can have those concerns next Christmas and NYE.
I honestly am so desperate for this all to be done with. To walk into a bar and not feel like every person is staring at me because I have no hair, to feel beautiful and confident as a young woman and mostly to be overall better. Unfortunately, though, like many things in life. You can’t just click your fingers and have things be ‘better’. To be better in any sense, a better person, better at your job, your relationships, your fitness, it all takes time. This is something I’m still so frustratingly learning.
Some days, I really feel like I’m smashing it. On others however, I feel like I am completely failing at this whole ordeal. I am a completely different woman to who I was when I began writing and was first diagnosed, and for that I am proud. However, I wish we lived in a world where no one had to battle cancer. It does not discriminate; it does not care of your age nor your financial situation. I’ve seen my cancer break the hearts of so many of my loved ones for the sheer fact that they cannot do anything to take the burden away.
I promise to write more. I think I needed some time to process what has gone on over the last couple of months, but there really is some major topics I want to shed some light on. The emotions I struggle with daily, the fear, and the giant adjustments I’ve had to make not only physically but mentally too.
All my love,