At the start of this week I, along with my family and friends and indeed many strangers who are following my progress, were praying for a good result from my scan. I had the scan a week ago, last Friday evening. I had imagined that this would mean me spending the weekend in fear, frozen, paralysed by the anxiety of waiting for the results. Happily, the reality was different. I was able to have a normal weekend (whatever “normal” means, particularly these days) with the family. I didn’t spend every waking hour Googling cancer related facts, nor did I spend the time convinced of impending doom. Even on results day itself, I was relatively calm.
I was quite intrigued by my own reaction. I wasn’t sure whether I had now reached the stage where nothing could seem worse, or whether it was my sub-conscious telling me that the chemo was working. Either way, it was only really in the final hour before my appointment that scanxiety set in.
As it turned out, it was the best possible appointment. My wonderful oncologist had his door open as we arrived for the consultation and waved us straight in. There was no delay and no ceremony as he updated us. The chemo is working. My liver mets had not only stabilised, but shrunk. Initially they looked as if they had shrunk by a little but, but he had calculated that, taking account of the fact that they are spheres, they had shrunk by a half in volume. Happy days!
We then had a half an hour conversation about next steps in which he was good enough to listen to all my questions, consider them and answer them. To cut a long story short, he had recommended 2 or 3 more cycles of the current chemo regime, after which I will have another scan. At that point I might be a good candidate for a procedure called SIRT (selective internal radiotherapy). This involves placing radioactive beads in a major artery supplying the liver. The blood stream takes the beads into the liver where they work on the tumours. David was very happy to consider this and refer me, which is great news.
I left the consultation with mixed emotions. Clearly it was good that the mets on my liver are shrinking. But Elliot and I had discussed the possible outcomes beforehand and, as he had pointed out, even this news doesn’t change the fact that I still have stage IV cancer. No one knows how long the chemo will continue to work for. No one knows how long I will be here for. Elliot certainly didn’t seem particularly happy after the appointment, for those very reasons. I felt like I was swinging between happiness and blankness. After all, the chemo regime is incredibly tough and the scan results meant I am going to have to suffer it again and again.
As the week went on I started to perk up, buoyed in no small part by the delight of family and friends on hearing my news. I felt like I could start to look ahead a little, to plan a little, like I had the right at last to feel at least a little bit positive. Going to work this week has also helped. I have had work planning conversations looking forward to the next financial year and not shied away from them for fear of not being there. I have been able to read good news stories about other people with stage IV cancer and allow myself to imagine that I might be one of them. I have finished some of the tasks I set myself to do things for the kids when I first got my secondary diagnosis and I have put the results in a box in a cupboard, rather than having them sitting out all the time.
And best of all has been Elliot’s evolving reaction. From diffidence on Monday (for the reasons explained above, I hasten to add!), last night and this morning the funereal tone in his voice had gone. This morning he told me he thought I might be back to work full pelt in a year’s time. Team Choueka is now singing from the same hymn sheet! We are both a bit more comfortable to look ahead, to plan, to dare to hope that I might have a slightly longer future than we had previously thought.
But as is seemingly always the case on this long and gruelling journey, the light was tempered with dark today. Prayers at the start of the week, and prayers at the end. This morning I heard that one of my online friends with secondary breast cancer is giving up her fight. She is in too much pain, pain which can’t be controlled. Her cancer is spreading fast. So she has decided to cease all treatment. She has a husband and two small boys and my heart is breaking for them all. I understand and I respect her decision, but I am desperately saddened by their situation. So my prayers today are for her and her family – that they all find peace and that they enjoy her final days together surrounded by love and laughter, making memories for her sons and easing her onward journey. Penny, you will never read this but I hope that somehow you will know that I am praying for you.