The nurse just left. She won’t be back. As I hugged her goodbye, I half jokingly said “Hopefully, I’ll never see you again!” This was my last Herceptin injection. The last of 18 five minute long injections. The last time the drug burns its way through my tissue, causing a sharp intake of breath for the first 30 seconds. The last time it has the potential to stop my heart.
But it’s also the final batch of the wonder drug circulating in my body, restricting the growth of any cancer cells still in me. It’s the final withdrawal of medical services that have structured and shaped my life for the past year. I may never see those wonderful, kind, interesting and caring nurses that have sat with me and chatted for two hours on every visit.
So it’s with mixed feelings that I approach today. There is some evidence that only 9 cycles of Herceptin are actually necessary and as effective. I feel reassured by that. Even if I carried on having the drug every week. Even if my heart could take it, it wouldn’t make any difference to what the future brings. This is what my confusion is all about: the future.
Cancer has a dual nature. It is in one sense a chance set of 5/6 mutations that leads to a perfect storm of change to the cells. It takes 15-20 years to accumulate those mutations and cooperation from surrounding cells to produce a cancer. It’s a genetic disease. Something sporadic yet seemingly irrepressible. Something I can’t really influence. At the same time there are ‘risk factors’ for each type of cancer. So outside things can make the conditions just right for a mutation to be more likely. The biological Goldilocks moment but with less friendly bears.
Not everyone who is exposed to those risks gets cancer though. So at that point there is some level of unluckiness. The Herceptin injections represent to me the chance factor. The drug is working on what’s already there, what I can’t do much about. Lightning has already struck. So it makes me nervous that it’s gone.
On the other side, I went to weigh myself and then off to circuit training this morning. I’ve lost another 1.3 kilos and I felt so strong during the exercise class. This is the risk factor stuff. My cancer is oestrogen positive and fat produces oestrogen so, the fat has to go.
Today was about the two sides of the cancer coin. I will have to learn to live with the randomness. The lack of control. At least there is something I can do though. At least I can do the things I need to do to get myself in or out of the cancer lottery in the first place.
For now, I say thank you and goodbye to the incredible nurses who have supported me for the last year. I wanted to bake them cakes but I’ve become too much of a health nut to ethically thrust love-laden sugary treats on them. Instead I made them funky tablet covers. Another sign of a new life and a shiny new skill to keep me happy and reduce another risk factor: the devil of stress. So it seems those lovely nurses continue to help me, even when they’re not around.