MarySmith’sPlace ~ CancerDiary#30 #thinking aloud

Wednesday 07, April:  A week and a day since my last update and it has been a strange week of ups and downs and mixed emotions. Missing Sue terribly yet sometimes forgetting she’s not still here. I find myself thinking, “Oh, I must tell Sue …” and then remember. I read her posts being re-blogged on franceandvincent and laugh and cry and relish the sheer joy she felt exploring her native Yorkshire moors.

And today, I’m devastated because while in the garden I lost one of the earrings she gifted me. I’ve searched and the DH has searched but so far no luck in finding it. I’ll keep on looking, though needle in a haystack comes to mind.

When the weather has been good I’ve spent time in the garden, well wrapped up (I don’t cast clouts until May is out and have still been wearing my thermal vest) mainly reading and gazing at the daffodils.

Bandit and I enjoying the sunshine – and oh my god, those thighs. It’s the steroids, honest!

A friend came one day for coffee in the garden – we last saw each other sometime in the summer of 2020 – so that was pretty special.

Also, on Easter Sunday, Wee-sis came round. The weather had changed by then so we sat freezing for an hour but it was worth it. Last time we were together, socially distanced, was back in February when we went for a walk at Rockcliffe and saw the shell tree, which was the day my cough started.

Wee-sis adds a shell to the tree on our last walk together – we’ll be back.

I’m pleased to say I am coughing less than I was a week ago though I am impatient to be rid of it all together and to stop being so breathless on any exertion – perhaps my expectations of how quickly the steroids would work were too high. I remember when Dad was put on a course of steroids and to our astonishment he managed to get out of his wheelchair (he’d lost all mobility months earlier) and take a few steps. Fortunately, the DH was there to catch him before he hit the floor. I was expecting to be skipping around like a lamb after a week on steroids.

I did manage to walk maybe about a mile to and from the osprey viewing platform at Threave and take a photo of the osprey on the nest. I was ridiculously pleased knowing the ospreys had returned and I was here to see them. I also felt quite chuffed at managing the walk. Next day I was tired but thought it was maybe to be expected. The day after, though, I was coughing a lot more again and feeling very fed up with life. Lesson learned – don’t push, don’t try to do too much.

Good to see the ospreys back on their nest

Since then, I’ve limited my walking to short strolls in the park. I’m ashamed to admit we drive there. I can’t quite believe it has come to this. It’s only a few weeks since a friend and I walked from my house to and around the park and back home – under two miles – and now I can’t even do that. Yet. I will, though, I will.

Swans at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas.

From time to time the fact my tumour is reducing in size makes me feel astonishingly joyful, though I quickly resume my usual yes, but, we don’t know for sure what’s happening, don’t tempt fate, wait for the next scan … I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be an optimist.

I am, however, beginning to feel human again: not yet a fully formed human but getting there. I’m doing things. I have the talk for Aberdeen Libraries next week (fully booked with a waiting list, which is good to hear), I took part in the Society of Authors in Scotland inaugural Zoom meeting of non-fiction writers and I’m – almost – beginning to write again.

It has been so long. When we went into lockdown last year I stopped writing. Oh, I was always going to get on with it, but there was something about not actually having to do it which let me off the hook. Fortunately, before my writing muscle totally atrophied I took part in the Writedown project, in which 22 people recorded their reactions to what was happening in lockdown. When, as we were emerging from the restrictions, I was told I was not likely to live more than seven months if I did not go for treatment for lung cancer other writing projects were abandoned. Well, apart from this cancer diary and some very rough draft poems.

The voice whispering in my ear was saying: “Wait and see what the treatment achieves. No point spending time editing the My Dad’s a Goldfish memoir if I’m not going to be around to finish it.” Maybe treatment would grant me more time, enough time even to finish the book. Now, I’ve had the treatment. I know the tumour has been shrinking but won’t have a more definitive (is there such a thing in cancer?) result for another seven/eight weeks. How much time might I have? Will I want to spend it working on a book I may not finish? Would I rather spend my time exploring Scotland (Covid restrictions allowing) or making a final attempt to clear out the attic and my dad’s books?

I feel so wishy washy compared to Sue. When told she had probably ‘three to six decent months’ she worked her socks off editing and re-publishing the books she and Stuart France had previously published plus editing and publishing some new books of her own as well as writing blog posts. It turned out her time was much less than estimated but even when told it was going to be ‘days into weeks’ she didn’t sit back, put her feet up, cuddle Ani and let those days drift by but carried on working, despite the pain she was in, to create a legacy for her family and for all of us.

And so, I salute and thank you, Sue for giving me a much-needed nudge and I will pick up my red editing pen tomorrow and get cracking. First, though, I’ll be out in the garden doing a forensic fingertip search for my lost earring.

I leave you with an image of a full-throated song of joy.

MarySmith’sPlace – Good news and sad news; Cancer diary #29

My tumour, and its radiotherapy treatment area. It’s shrinking.

Tuesday, 30 March: As you know I had a meeting yesterday with the oncologist to hear more about the scan result.

I was aware from the hospital’s discharge summary the tumour had shrunk but didn’t really understand all that implied, especially as the CT scan had been done earlier than it would have been. Usually, the scan would be carried out 12 weeks after the end of the radiotherapy but because I’d become ill it was done to determine the cause of my cough and breathlessness – done, therefore, before the radiation had stopped working.

Although, it’s not definitive and nothing is ever certain in cancer, the oncologist said she is pleased with what the scan shows, saying it is as positive a scan as she would hope to see.

When I had the PET scan done back in July, the tumour was 7.5cm. It continued to grow between then and when I began chemotherapy. Although I didn’t write down its measurements then, it was large enough to cause a partial collapse of the upper right lung.  Now, it is 3cm and the mediastinal lymph nodes have also reduced.

Other good news is that there’s no sign of metastatic lung disease or spread to other organs. Looking at the remaining lump in my lung she hopes it is all dead tissue but “it never goes away to nothing”. If they are all dead cells it will stay like that but there is a significant risk that there could still be some active cancer cells I’ve been told that tissue will remain which will contain the dead cells that over time could and would grow. No crystal ball to say if this will happen or when. As ever with cancer, there are no certainties.

I’ll have another scan in eight weeks when everything should have settled down. I know nothing is ever certain in cancer and I remember our short-lived jubilation when Sue’s tumours reduced from the size of doughnuts to walnuts but I’m cautiously optimistic about the result. That’s a pretty brave thing to say for the glass half empty kind of person I am!

I’m going to be on steroids for the next six weeks for the pneumonitis. Unfortunately, the cough and breathlessness are not much better but the oncologist thinks they will improve gradually as the inflammation in my lung subsides.

Absorbing all the information is quite difficult and I’m so glad we have the discussion recorded and can listen again. If I didn’t have the pneumonitis causing such debilitating breathlessness I’d be absolutely delighted with the results. I moan about how radiotherapy is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of horrendous side effucks – but it is also the gift which is smashing up the tumour in my lung.  

Other good news – my mammogram came back clear. Being recalled would probably have finished me off.  I’m booked for my second Covid vaccination on April 10.

And the oncologist says I can go ahead with my hair appointment on 23rd April – and should be able to hug my son soon after that.

For everyone (all of us) who loves to see lambs!

In the midst of yesterday’s good news, my friend Sue passed away yesterday. She was diagnosed a couple of weeks after I was. In fact, she had thrown her bag in her car to drive up to meet me the day she had her scan result. Her tumours were in her left lung, mine in my right – “a right pair of bloody bookends” was the description we both thought of at the same time. Since then, we kept each other company on this very strange odyssey, sharing much laughter, frustration, tears, anger and love. Sue reached the end of the journey before I did and it is going to be hard to carry on without her.

But, perhaps she will always be my side.