I didn’t really expect to be writing on the blog today to be honest. Today was supposed to go something like this…
Wake up, and have a lazy morning. Then in the afternoon Sally and Saskia were due to go to a little ante-natal group party, while I had a quiet afternoon at home, incorporating a lesson from a photographer in how to post process my photos on the computer. So while a nice day, not exactly ‘interesting blog post’ material.
What actually happened bore very little resemblance to that. But before I go into detail I have to explain a bit of background context – some of you will know this already, some not. And I’m not really sure how to put it, so I’ll just say it – the cancer has spread to my brain (boo hiss!).
I actually found this out a while ago, just before I started the blog. In my first post, when I mentioned that I couldn’t go on the second clinical trial ‘due to the location of my cancer’… well that was why. Most clinical trials prohibit entry to patients with brain metastases. I don’t really remember why, and probably don’t want to know. But by agreeing to go on that trial I consented to having a CT scan of my brain, which showed multiple metastases (albeit small).
Obviously this was very hard to hear, and for one reason or another I didn’t really feel ready to disclose this news openly on the blog at that point in time. I’m not really sure why – perhaps I needed to come to terms with it myself first; or perhaps I just felt that this, on top of all the other news, was just too depressing a way to start the blog. Also, at that point I was asymptomatic (i.e. had no physical symptoms of the brain mets). So I decided to hold on to that news for the time being.
Well, as of today, I am no longer asymptomatic – what actually happened today was this…
Woke up at about 6am. By about 6:30ish I had developed a crushing headache on the left side of my head, like nothing I have ever experienced before (although I rarely suffer from headaches). I am already on paracetamol for my back pain, so couldn’t take any more of that – but I remembered that I had some codeine in a drawer, prescribed by my GP a while back in case I had any more attacks of stomach pain (mentioned in my first post). So I took the maximum dose of codeine I could, led back down, closed my eyes, and just waited for it to take effect. Which eventually, it did. After an hour or two the pain started to subside, and I think I dozed for a bit.
When I woke up and tried to get out of bed, I realised that something else was wrong – my vision wasn’t quite right. After much waving of my hands in front of my face I established that I was missing much of the peripheral vision in my right eye. If I held my right hand directly ahead of me, looked at it, and then moved my hand to the right (whilst still looking directly ahead), I only had to move my hand 10 to 20 degrees before it disappeared entirely from view. The same experiment with my left eye and hand showed I could still see my hand in my vision when it was out at 90 degrees, parallel with my shoulder.
I knew at this point that the brain mets were now playing up, and this wasn’t just a headache. We had been told that they could cause swelling and inflammation in the brain, resulting in headaches, vision problems, and possibly causing me to have a fit (an experience I am really not looking forward to). So we decided to phone the doctor at the Royal Marsden. What ensued was a flurry of calls between the Royal Marsden, my GP surgery, and Canterbury Hospital.
I was immediately prescribed steroids to try and reduce any swelling and inflammation. The Marsden also wanted an urgent CT scan of my head, but were happy for me to have this locally, rather than make another trip into London. A few more phone calls later (and a bit of clarification as to whether urgent meant ‘within a week’ or ‘today’) and I was called into Canterbury Hospital at half an hours notice for a CT scan of my head.
So Saskia was collected and sent on her way to her party as a temporary orphan, while Sally and I were kindly driven by a friend (also called Sally) to Canterbury for my scan. After a bit of waiting around, my scan was completed and we were driven home.
We don’t yet have any news on the scan results – they were being sent up to the Royal Marsden, and we are expecting to hear tomorrow. Assuming the scan shows just some swelling, I continue taking the steroids. If it shows ‘anything else’, we take a ‘different route’. I’m not really sure what ‘anything else’ and ‘different route’ involve at the moment.
So there we go. I’m currently sat on the bed, resting, typing, and quaffing steroids, paracetamol and codeine. The headache has mostly gone (or is suppressed by the painkillers), but there is a lingering sense of it. My vision is still not really improved – so far today I have walked into a hospital trolley, our sloping bedroom ceiling, and a door (repeatedly). Also I have stepped on the cat. It really is amazing how inconvenient it is – I keep losing items that are placed slightly to my right, because they just don’t appear in my field of vision.
I am sincerely hoping that I wake up in the morning able to see properly again, and preferably without a skull that feels like it wants to explode – I can do without all that.
Before I finish, I want to write a bit about the decision of whether or not to have the brain scan required for the clinical trial – just for the benefit of anyone reading this who might ever have to make a similar decision. When weighing up the pros and cons of the trial, we discussed this a lot. The Royal Marsden tend to adopt a policy (for melanoma at least) of not scanning the brain unless a patient actually shows symptoms of brain mets (even though melanoma commonly spreads to the brain). Which might sound strange, but everything they do is based on sound logic and reason. I’m not going to try and explain that logic or reason, as I don’t consider myself aware enough and don’t want to risk misrepresenting them.
We questioned whether or not we wanted to know if the cancer was in the brain and to what extent – were we setting ourselves up for another fall? What could be done if it was found? We were warned that if the scan showed anything, I would no longer legally be able to drive. In the end we decided that the clinical trial was ‘the fighters choice’, and therefore accepted the brain scan as part and parcel of the entry requirements.
As it turned out we did get bad news – and it was tough to deal with. However, I am glad we made the decision that we did. Today has been a crap day, that’s for sure – but at least we knew it could be coming, and so were slightly prepared for it. We had already dealt with the news, so today has just involved dealing with symptoms. I cannot imagine how much worse today would have been if we’d had to deal with the realisation that the cancer was in my brain, at the same time as having to deal with the first arrival of symptoms. We knew very early what was up, and were able to act quickly – as were the various medical professionals involved. Another advantage is that the Marsden have a scan from a month ago to compare this latest scan against.
That doesn’t mean this decision would be right for everyone – we’re all different. But I just wanted to offer an insight into our particular experience – an insight which would have been useful to us back when making the decision ourselves.
Finally, some thank yous; to all the medical staff involved in organising and carrying out my treatment today; to Sally for driving us to and from the hospital and remaining on standby should we have needed to go to London; Caroline for being on Saskia standby this morning; to Janine for collecting Saskia, and all the NCT girls for looking after her; and to my Mum for driving up here at short notice to be on standby should we need to go to London tomorrow.
Right, so there we are. I’ve learnt an important lesson today – never promise to make your next post interesting, because you might get what you ask for. In fact I hope my next post is complete and utter tedium – perhaps about the finer points of how libraries organise their books on shelves, and the intricacies of those little labels with all the numbers and decimal places on the spines of the books.
Sorry for any typos or errors – but as I can only half see, I’m sure you will let me off.
P.S. In the midst of our flurry of phone calls this morning, Sally’s phone died (awesome timing!) – she could see she had received some texts, but could not read them. Subsequently this afternoon it appears to have given up the ghost entirely. So if anyone wants to contact Sally please be aware of that. Currently via e-mail, landline, or me are the best options. I will post again when we have it sorted.