The Britney Effect

Remember this?

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Britney Spears Shaving Head during Breakdown

 

Well, didn’t I laugh and judge and gossip about it. Although, I did admit, and still do, that she rocks the shaved head but I am honest in saying I was one of the many who judged this poor girl. I had no idea that something can happen in your life, in your brain, to create such a self destructive act, a cry for help.

Until now.

Everyone, including myself, thought that my life was just plodding along fine and dandy. What could be wrong now that I was now a ‘cancer survivor’, I wasn’t having any further cancer treatment. I had hair again, hair I could even style. Surgery was on the cards for a new boob, weight was being lost….. wedding plans were happening.

Now……… well,  here I am after MY Britney Breakdown.

 

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Photograph courtesy of Dora Stergiou – November  2016

It turns out that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a real thing following cancer treatment. PTSD symptoms are different for each person and apparently, they usually develop within three months of a traumatic event but can also occur several months, even years later. For me, it was six months following the end of the cancer treatment. One would expect, after that amount of time, me to be happy ‘its over’ and on the road to ‘getting back to normal’ now that I don’t have to have any further cancer treatment. These expectations are not the case. Here is how it all unfolded…..

MEDICATIONS

  • Aropax (Anti-Depressant and Anti-Anxiety Medication) 60mg
  • Tamoxifen (a synthetic drug used to treat breast cancer)  20mg
  • Avymys (works to decrease inflammation caused by allergy) 55 micrograms
  • Fish Oil (Helps to maintain strong bones)  1000mg
  • Duromine (Appetite Suppressant) 30 mg
  • Panadene Forte (Pain Killers)
    • Paracetamol 500 mg
    • Codeine phosphate 30 mg
  • Telfast (relieve the symptoms of hayfever) 180mg
  • Vitamin D Liquid (Strengthen Bones) 1000IU
  • Caltrate Calcium (Strengthen Bones)

 

Expectations (Beyond the normal day to day ones)

  • Lose a lot of weight in preparation for surgery – Breast Surgeon
  • Increase heart rate for a mininum of 30 days to prevent cancer returning – Oncologist
  • Stop smoking to prevent cancer coming back or developing a new one – Everyone (I did this one!)
  • Reduce or stop drinking alcohol to prevent cancer coming back – A lot of people
  • Reduce or stop sugar to prevent cancer coming back and to assist in losing weight – Some People
  • Continue to be strong – Me
  • Move on from cancer – Many people and myself
  • Stop talking about cancer – A few people
  • Have life return to pre cancer normal – A lot of people/myself

 

Upcoming Events Needing Thought and Action

  • Christmas gift buying
  • Surgery
  • Wedding

 

It seems I wasn’t coping with post cancer as well as I thought I was. I saw myself as a cancer patient, not a cancer survivor. I think I still do as a matter of fact but anyway, I was on a path of self destruction. Drinking too much, taking all of the above medication, I took up smoking (as previously discussed) and I wonder, did I do all of this to block out the self chatter in my head or to gain the attention some people feel I was seeking? I don’t know that answer but hopefully in time, I will find out.

The Day of my Britney Effect

I had a cold. No big deal right but it seems that it actually was a big deal. On top of all of the medications listed above, I was now about to add in 10 mls of cough medicine which would turn out to be the straw that broke the camels back (I am the camel).

My memory is vivid when I recall taking the small amount of medicine and within about 10 minutes or so, I became obsessed, almost manic in my thoughts. All I could think about was getting home from work, enjoying some sparkling wine (I had booked the following day off from work for some R&R) and not having to go to bed early. I knew I was meeting up with a lovely friend Nicole who was going to give my lovely locks a trim and then catching up with my 30+ year friend Tracey for a long overdue lunch.

I was only successful in one of my thoughts becoming an action and that was buying a bottle of my favourite Jacobs Creek Trilogy sparkling wine on the way home from work. I must say, that bottle disappeared real bloody quick and before I knew it, I was off to the bottleshop for another bottle.

This is where things get a little hazy. I vaguely remember saying goodnight to Sam when he went to bed. I vaguely remember playing some of my favourite games on facebook but then my memory is blank.

Before I know it, I am waking the next day and my hair is gone. I feel sick to my stomach and wonder what on earth happened. Where is my hair!? Somewhere deep in my brain I know it was myself that had cut it but why? How much did I cut.

Yep, all of it. Looking in the mirror when I got up was like a punch to the stomach. I could barely breathe, my hair had been cut in a drunken, manic manner. Some cuts were to the scalp and cuts were not so short and left tufts sticking out.

Me at the Lobethal Hair Studio 28/10/2016 - Thank you Lisa Grapentin for 'fixing it up' best you could. Sorry for the constant stream of tears....
Me at the Lobethal Hair Studio 28/10/2016 – Thank you Lisa Grapentin for ‘fixing it up’ best you could. Sorry for the constant stream of tears…. thank you for your amazing words of wisdom

 

Enter tears.

These tears continued for two days! TWO DAYS! I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t eat, decisions were impossible…..I couldn’t cope. And it really wasn’t even about the hair to be honest. I was so lost, confused.

I hit rock bottom.

I was suddenly aware that life wasn’t what I thought it would be after cancer. In fact, it was so much harder coping with life after cancer than it was during cancer. Do you think that is weird?

During cancer my life was taken care of by everyone but me.

  • GP – Tells me I have cancer and proceeds to book me in to see a surgeon immediately
  • Surgeon – Tells me he is the captain of the ship and it is his job to save my life. Then provides me with an Oncologist for the next step
  • Sam – Takes on all responsibilities of getting me too and from all appointments, provides my medications, fluids, foods, hugs and kisses. Cleans house, ensures I shower, sleep, wake, rest, laugh, changes linen on regular basis….
  • Mum – delivers flowers to my house weekly upon her visits
  • Nurses – Provide all of the compassion, caring and patience needed during hospital stays, chemotherapy treatments, radiation treatments, scans, blood tests,
  • Oncologist – Prepares a schedule of chemotherapy treatments, blood tests, herceptin treatments and provides me with a Radiologist
  • Radiologist – Schedules all of my radiation treatments, sees me on a weekly basis to check my radiation wounds, provide input on creams and treatments for healing
  • Radiographers – Tell me where and how to lay on the bed in preparation for treatment, count down via speakers for holding my breath when the radiation occurs, help me off the bed and have lovely chats with me about my dogs and life
  • Friends and Family – These amazing people do all of the visiting me, calling and texting and emailing me to check up to see I am doing ok, to fill me in on their lives, to make me smile and fill my house with flowers and cards and gifts
  • Private Health Insurance – Pays many of the bills received from having this disease
  • Income Insurance – Pays me 75% of my wage each month
  • The Bank – reduces the mortgage payments to assist in our treatment costs

 

After cancer – Where is everyone?

  • I was hugged and waved goodbye by the beautiful and amazing nurses at oncology on my last day of Herceptin
  • Hair grows back and I no longer look ill therefore, am expected to get on with life as normal
  • Normal doesn’t come along as easy as I thought
  • Banks and other billing companies are no longer so accommodating if bills are late due to ongoing financial burdens because, cancer treatment has finished
  • There are no more cards and flowers
  • No more nurses to make you smile and compare stories of the weekends with
  • There is nothing very interesting to talk about anymore
  • Fatigue and vagueness are still in my life
  • Surgeon is no longer so cuddly and caring but is now demanding and stern
  • I’m not skinny from cancer treatment like those in movies and TV shows
  • I am not needed by the cancer community anymore
  • People aren’t contacting me about their friends or family who have been diagnosed with this illness for me to help them, to talk to them, provide advice and friendship…..

Step 1 – Phone the Cancer Council day Friday 28/10/2016, 1 day after beginning of break down, and receive emergency counselling over the phone and book a face to face session. Confirm there is no risk of self harm and be unable to manage any part of a conversation without crying. Find out about PTSD, Survivor Guilt, Fear of Further Cancer, Loss of Identity…….. there are so many issues, mental heath problems, that can occur after cancer treatment has finished. It isn’t always easy to become a cancer survivor and ‘just get on with things’.

Step 2 – Phone Lisa at the Lobethal Hair Studio to fix the mess and destruction on my head. Find it impossible to stop crying the whole time I’m there. Listen to words of wisdom and good advice. Having someone who knows me so well that knows, it isn’t really about the hair……….. it is more than that.

Step 3 – Attend GP for further emergency assistance. GP proceeds to take away ALL medications and alcohol except 20mg of Tamoxifen (1 tablet for assistance in preventing further cancer) each night and 10mg of Lexipro (Anti Anxiety Medication) each  morning. If I develop a headache at anytime, I am to take nothing stronger than panadol. GP books fortnightly catch ups but advises me to attend the surgery anytime between appointments if I fall apart or it gets too much again. The reason for the alcohol being stopped is because now I have no more hair, what happens if I ‘blackout’ again? I have no more hair to chop off and next time could be a lot more dangerous eg: getting in to a car, walking the streets (there are a few lakes and dams around Meadows) etc….

So, it has now been two weeks since this ‘all went down’. Some days I cruise through and other days, I am fighting to swim against my current of tears…… Nothing sets me off into the spiral of sadness and it is hard to find something to drag me out of it, try as I might.

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I am thankful for some incredibly amazing people who have made it their priority to ensure I know they’re there for me. I want to thank

  • my amazing managers for letting me blubber my way through some attempt at explaining what was wrong with me,
  • for my Bulldog Veronica for fielding all queries about me, shuffling people away from me, standing up for me, protecting me,
  • Vanessa who sends the loveliest words which are so genuine and kind, caring and thoughtful,
  • TK for becoming my ‘stalker’ by sending texts filled with ridiculous world laws, funny photos of her little man Zander, memes of feelings, all while struggling with her own illness and sadness’
  • Tamara, my amazing friend and cousin who has been there before, during and after all of the cancer bizzo sending me her ‘minimum of three things to be grateful/thankful for’ each day and for accepting mine.
  • My Mum for bringing flowers and smiles yet again for this new event in her eldest daughters life.
  • My incredible in laws to be for their hugs and understanding in a certain matter (they know what I am talking about) and for their constant undying love for me
  • John and Clare Mannion for listening and offering lovely words
  • My work colleagues for putting up with me shuffling around from floor to floor to hide from the world for a while
  • The Cancer Council of South Australia on Greenhill Road
  • My friends and family who have, and are, allowing me to cancel all dinner, party and catch up confirmations to deal with this issue
  • That incredible, amazing, loving, supportive, cuddly, funny, compassionate man of mine Sam. Yes, he was angry initially not knowing what on earth was going on with me and thinking  I’d gone on a bender looking for attention. That thought didn’t last long, he realised pretty quickly there was more to it. Sam was there for me taking me to the GP for emergency help and also joined me for counselling at the Cancer Council.

 

I will leave you with some bullshit comments that some people felt the need to say (weather to me or someone else)

  • What on earth did you do to your beautiful hair? It was looking really good! It really was so lovely and curly (my note: it was not curly ok!?) and so pretty. Why would you get rid of that?
    • My side note on this comment – This comment was made to my face by someone who is an associate, not a friend, not a family member but they felt they had the right and need to tell me that my hair looked terrible. I wonder, how would they feel if someone went to them and told them their recent hair cut looked terrible and why didn’t they just leave their hair as it was?
  • She is obviously just wanting more attention
    • My side note on this comment – Um, really? Thanks! I think most people would understand it goes a little deeper than this
  • Why on earth would she have ‘issues’? Isn’t her cancer finished? What is her problem now?
    • My side note on this comment – Firstly, cancer doesn’t FINISH. Secondly, unless you have had such a horrible, emotional, physical event such as this, do not assume you know what it is like ‘once the cancer has finished’ as you put it

The comments I LOVED and heard from a few people were

  • I’m not sure why you cut your hair but I LOVE IT! It really suits you
    • This comment was awesome because I didn’t have to explain why I cut my hair, I wasn’t made to feel ugly, stupid, crazy or weird.
  • I don’t meant to overstep any boundaries but I want to ask because I’m worried…. you don’t have cancer again/you haven’t started chemo again have you?
    • These questions were honest, real, true and there was no other meaning to them other than what was said.

To be continued ………………………..

brit

 

 

 

 

The Price of Supporting Local Business

I am taking a risk with this blog because I know many people will not be happy with me but I am a little angry right now.

Small business is a big thing. Many of us do try to support small business as much as possible but it is the cost of some small businesses that see us ‘giving up’ and having to use the big companies.

My local bottle shop will tell you that I am a huge supporter of small business hehe. I do also use the local shop and barn for items quite regularly. Petrol is often bought locally but even they are testing my patience at times. Recently, they have had their price of petrol sitting at $1.14 a liter but I travel ‘down the hill’ and it is $1.03 everywhere else.

Anyhoo, here is my point.

As we all know, I will be on Tamoxifen for 10 years. And we all know I visit Dr George often and then I see his wife (who runs the chemist) afterward for my prescriptions and I really like both of these people. I knew the medication was roughly $9.00 dearer to buy from this chemist but, especially through my chemo days, I had no other option.

Well, I bought my Tamoxifen from them recently and it had to be ordered in. I was quoted $25.00 for 60 tablets. So, I thought, oh, that’s ok, $12.50 per month isn’t too bad I guess. When the medication arrived the next day, I was then told it was not $25.00 but was $38.30.

Whoa! That is quite the price difference.

When I purchased my 2nd packet of Tamoxifen (no, I haven’t been on it for two months but was near a chemist in town the other day and just handed all of my scripts in and Tamoxifen was one of those scripts) and blow me down with a feather but the price was soooo much different. It was $16.99!

Here is my proof. Also take note, the more expensive local product is the ‘generic brand’ which is supposed to be cheaper!

So let us work this out.

If I support local business and buy from my local chemist, I will spend

$229.80 each year as opposed to $101.94.

Over the 10 years of taking this medication I would pay

$2,298.00 instead of $1,019.10. It would cost me $1,278.90 to shop locally.

No one in their right mind would do this if they had a choice. The chemist which is not local to me is almost next door to where I work so there is no extra travel costs to get to another chemist for me because I’ll already be there.

I understand that local businesses don’t have the buying power of the big business and I accept the prices will be slightly higher but more than double? No, I can’t accept that. I can not support a local business that is going to cost me over $1,200 more than shopping at a chemist near work.

Right, now I have that off my chest…. I’ll leave you with some happy photos

Breast Cancer V’s Anxiety

I have suffered anxiety for a few years now but has been maintained by medication and in all honesty, I haven’t really thought about it. My medication, great positive mindset, positive outlook, wonderful family, daughter, partner has seen me though.

My stage three breast cancer was diagnosed and confirmed 8th of April, 2015 and in all honesty, I don’t feel that it has affected me since I found it hadn’t spread further than my lymph nodes. The worst part of this experience beside finding out I had breast cancer was the agonising wait to see how far this cancer had spread. We (Sam and I) knew it had spread to the lymph nodes but there was a good chance it had spread to my lungs, my brain, kidneys etc. Unless you have been through this part of the cancer wait, you will have no idea how excruciating the wait can be to find out exactly where the cancer is.

It has since occurred to me that my anxiety has increased in the last week. So, today it is the 7th of May and that marks a month since I have known I had breast cancer. Everything had been a whirlwind since diagnosis.

There were surgeon appointments, body scan appointments, surgery booked, boobectimy and lymph node surgery, a week in hospital, recovery etc. There hasn’t been a moment to even think about what has gone on.

Today it occurred to me that the anxiety I have suffered for years is back with a vengeance. Where is Bruce Willis when I need him? Well, I don’t actually need him because I have my own superhero called Sam Wilkinson. My future husband. The man who has saved my life by detecting the breast cancer. The man who hasn’t left my side since diagnosis. The man who was there by my side in hospital every moment available.

What Sam can’t fix is the anxiety that is creeping through my veins. The anxiety that makes me snap at him and the dogs and even my gorgeous little Summer who comes to visit. Thankfully I can tell it is there, it is coming out and I can stop it but it doesn’t stop how I feel. I feel unsettled. I feel agitated and, of course, anxious. I have, like I said, my superhero Sam and my ever patient Summer to forgive my grumpiness and short temper.

I forgot to mention the other day that Summer asked where my ‘skipping rope’ had gone. This is the long tube that sucked the disgusting fluid from my wound through a tube (that is the skipping rope) into the bottle. I explained to Summer that my blood was now lovely and healthy again and she went onto explain that her blood was also nice and healthy and she didn’t need the skipping rope and bottle either.

My new doctor at the local GP clinic had asked me last Saturday about seeing a shrink about dealing with the breast cancer and boobectimy and I was shocked. I looked from Sam to Doctor and advised I didn’t need a shrink for this, I am coping A OK. I was doing great. No shrink needed thanks. I even had a giggle at the thought that the doctor thought I even needed this.

Well, it seems as though I do need this.

I can deal with the boob being cut off and thrown away. I can deal with my friend Summers version of my little boob (the nipple) being cut off and thrown away too. My surgeon is certain he has gotten all of the cancer out of my body. So what on earth am I anxious about?

My doctor today confirmed I am HER2 positive and whilst I don’t know much about it, I do know that anything on top of breast cancer and lymph node cancer, having HER2 positive can’t be good but I brushed it off. I said, oh dear Mr K, thats not cool hey? He replied with, a few years ago, having the HER2 diagnosis wouldn’t have been good but today, you are looking at a long and healthy life.

So, why am I suffering increased anxiety?

I am taking the anxiety medication that I have taken for years. It is the highest dosage I can have so what happens next? I dont want to be snappy because it comes across as ungrateful. I am not ungrateful and do not want to be seen as ungrateful. Is it not enough to deal with stage 3 breast cancer, lymph node cancer, HER2 positive, being overweight, about to lose all my hair and add to that increased anxiety?

Why can’t champagne be the medication to beat all of this? Why can’t I go to the chemo centre and they put a few bottles of Moet or Mumm or Trilogy in front of me, served by a topless and buff man with a cheese, caviar, crab meat, picked squid and a gluten free cracker platter? I am almost certain this would cure my anxiety issues.

In any case.  I think I’ll see my new local GP and ask again about this ‘care plan’ to have a shrink. A care plan is something the government offers that costs tax payers (others would say free but yes, I do know where these so called ‘free’ services come from) and get onto the shrink option and see how I can deal with this increased anxiety.

It kinda also seems trivial to complain about anxiety through this. Like saying, oh wow, I have a headache … sounds absolutely pathetic and not worth discussing seeing as though I have breast cancer and am fighting the fight of my life. Why bring up a headache, a tooth ache, it all seems quite trivial doesn’t it?

What I am happy about today are as follows…

*  lots of hugs and kind words from the wonderful people at my work who really meant what they said

*  my wonderful man who accepts the anxiety as a part of the journey of breast cancer and doesn’t dismiss it

*  organising a huge get together of my mum and mother in law , daughter and her partner to celebrate mothers day

*  having the mountains of fluid syringed from my body to prevent infection

*  comfortably admitting anxiety is coming on strong and ready to take it on and do something about it

*  to have a beautiful and comfortable home to recuperate in through my chemo adventure

Oh Shit! Just went over 1K words for this blog, there is no chance my lovely men Sam and Ian W will read this through…. way too long for them xx