My son was an absolute superstar, the first thing I remember when I woke up from the surgery was he standing there, holding my hand and asking ‘are you in pain mummy?’
Seeing me covered in bandages and tubes, and with monitors beeping around me, must have been upsetting but he really held it together. My stay in hospital was made all the more comfortable by the work of the amazing nurses, and the fabulous Dr Maharra who always knew exactly what to do whenever I felt any discomfort.
I took a couple of weeks at home to recover, the hardest thing is not being able to lift your arm after lymph node removal, you have to train every day climbing your hand up the wall as high up as you can. Plus where the nerves have been severed, the endings where you have sensation can be terribly painful at first.
The post-surgery pathology report came back, indicating that the cancer had advanced to grade 3 since chemo had been administered, 6/16 lymph nodes were infected, and a repeat FSH test now came back positive.
Emma - "My first attempt at tying a head scarf - it didn't last long!"
This was not the best news, and I felt quite devastated at first as it basically meant that the chemo was not as effective as it should have been, the cancer had adapted and fought back, becoming more aggressive. The tumours had all shrunk by around half their original size with chemo (with many cases, they are known to disappear completely) and in the month gap between then and surgery, had grown again to almost their original size.
Also, increasing from grade 2 to grade 3 also meant the risk of it spreading was higher. So my oncologist recommended that I take a 6-month course of oral chemo as well as immunotherapy every 3 weeks for 1 year, to address these new results, in addition to the already planned radiation and hormone therapy.
The oral chemo would apparently increase my chances of survival by a few measly percent, which doesn’t fill you with hope when you don’t even allow yourself to think about the possibility of it coming back as stage 4. And the idea of more chemo was really quite upsetting, although the reality was that the side effects of oral chemo are nothing like the IV kind, it didn’t really affect me at all save giving me very dry skin on my feet.
I had promised to talk more about my oncologist, Dr Fadi. The reason why I think it’s the worst profession is that they are the ones that have to deliver the bad news, and when that news is cancer related it’s honestly the worst.
Your relationship with your surgeon is over once your surgical wounds have healed, but your relationship with your oncologist is a minimum of 5 years long.”
With every follow up scan there is anxiety (we call it ‘scanxiety’) and fear. Poor Dr Fadi once told me that he feels it’s his lot in life to be hated, since everyone has a tendency to shoot the messenger, right? Their work is so admirable though, especially when a patient that they have been treating for years and who everyone hopes is in the clear suddenly gets a Stage 4 diagnosis – meaning that the cancer has spread to other organs.
Emma - "The one and only time I wore my expensive wig! Spent most of the time in scarves or uncovered."
Stage 4 is incurable, although in some cases, it is treatable and you can survive with a good quality of life for many years. But some patients are not so lucky, and I feel as though the oncologist must grieve all the time for the ones that they were unable to save. One of the down sides to being part of a support group like PINK Ladies is that statistically you will know and form bonds with people who will eventually die. There was one woman in particular who became my rock and good friend, who passed away last year, and I still miss her every day.
Death hadn’t really affected my life much before I got cancer, but I certainly can’t avoid facing that fact of life any more. I’m not very thick skinned when it comes to things like this, I get very emotional and I actually hope that won’t change, as I don’t ever want to get hardened to life.
We also lost our beloved nanny to cancer earlier this year, which hit our whole family very hard. I do worry about my son, who loved her dearly, with cancer being such a big part of his life at such a young age, and with him having seen first-hand that the end result is not always positive.
Have a question for Emma? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a weekly blog, by Emma Rymer. Emma is a long-time UAE resident, employed in a private sector firm. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and was cleared by the doctors as completely cancer-free in early 2018. She writes this weekly blog in the hope that other women or men going through the same process can find strength and resilience from her journey. Emma lives in Dubai with her family.