Breast Cancer: Screening found breast cancer; 1 year and Mammogram states no cancer found. Relief. Chapter 11.

I still am wearing my hat but gradually a curly head of hair is appearing.  What is strange is that my hair previously was straight and quite grey but not this time.  I will have to wait a little longer to see if this will change.

I had thought of this chapter as the conclusion but somehow I am not quite finished.
Within this month of August I will attend St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, Daycare Oncology, Level 3, for my 2 pm appointment on 14th August 2018, for my infusion of Herceptin. This happens to coincide with an appointment for a mammogram at the St. Vincent’s University Hospital Breast Care Service, suite 4, 1st floor.  The appointment time was early at 8.45 am.  Thankfully, on the day,  I was one of the first patients there, as many people gathered in the waiting area for their appointments.  As instructed I presented the letter to the receptionist.  The mammogram machine awaited me with a young radiologist who was thorough, pleasant and kind.  All was complete by 9.30 am so I phoned Oncology to see if they could give me an earlier appointment so they suggested I arrive at 12 noon.  I always carry a bag and in it is a selection of reading material, it can be the Financial Times Saturday magazine or it may be a book I am reading or for that matter it can be clippings from the recent newspapers.  The main purpose being that it is essential that I am not bored.  I went to the coffee shop and had a coffee and read until it was time to go to Oncology.

I arrived at 12 noon and joined other people in the waiting area until I was called for weight, temperature and blood pressure check.  A nurse was assigned to me.  This was her second day back in Oncology after having had her 2nd child.  There is something refreshing when you are in what can only be described as a dismal setting to see the young nurses and to hear them talk about their children, their holidays and when there is a lull in the events of the day, to hear them chat and laugh while they are writing up their notes on patients for the day.  Today Professor Armstrong came to Oncology and you could see that there was genuine respect and that all worked as a team.  When you are on Herceptin there is a possible side effect to the heart so every so many weeks it is necessary to have a heart echocardiograph…tests…/echocardiogram-echo-echocardiograph/.  I had forgotten where to go but the receptionist directed me to Cardiology; again there was no queue, the appointment system worked like clockwork and when finished I returned to Oncology.  The nurse had taken my bloods and the results were back, the echo results indicated an improvement and satisfactory.  I asked the nurse to give me my Vitamin B12 (cytamin) injection which she did.   I met with Professor Crown who is pleased with my progress to date and it was time for the infusion of Herceptin.  KT has been asking me when the treatment ends.  Asking questions I find difficult; I tend to be more solitary and seek answers through Google or reading.  Today I asked how many more treatments of Herceptin.  The nurse told me that I was on my 14th treatment and that it is probable that there will be three more, depending on Professor Crown’s decision.  KT was delighted that there was an end date; he has been a stalwart beyond my wildest expectations during this very traumatic time, especially for him as my confidant, carer and partner.  KT’s constancy has been so re-affirming and assuring.

I am awaiting the results of the mammogram and there is a hidden tension as we both re-affirm each other that all will be well, that the “Sledgehammer to catch a fly” approach of Professor Crown’s Oncology team, means that there is no more cancer in the breast.  I have neglected my teeth over the last year but while washing my teeth, a filling (gold) so it must be in decades, fell out so I knew it was time for me to visit my special dentist Dr Dan at Smiles, Waterloo Road, D4.  Having arranged an appointment for 28th August 2018, I attended.  Thankfully KT had reminded me to take the filling because it was decided to either remove the tooth or try re-inserting the filling, which Dr Dan did.

Wednesday 29th August 2018:  It was time for Phlebotomy department at St. Vincent’s University Hospital for my lithium and other bloods.  Fortunately, when I phoned the day before and explained that I had an appointment at St Vincent’s on August 29th, they had a vacancy.  Bloods complete I had time to put in.  I rambled around the main area of the hospital; the Irish Cancer Society have a Daffodil centre where there are brochures and trained staff to talk to people about cancer; it is an excellent service.  I have mentioned before about appointments and people not attending.  At longs last HSE bureaucracy are engaging in trying to make patients take some responsibility and there are signs on the walls about how important it is to attend appointments.  Private patients tend not to miss their appointments and there is no reason a patient in the public sector should be negligent.  An appointment costs the State money and awareness by both public and private patients makes the health system work in a systemic way and ensures costs are kept to a minimum.  The notice main points are as follows:-

St. Vincent’s University Hospital
  • Help reduce our hospital waiting time.
  • Here at St. Vincent’s University Hospital a total of 18,234 patients did not attend “DNA’s” their appointments.  “DNA’s are ‘did not attend’
  • Telephone numbers are provided for operations switch; bone and joint department; and diabetes centre
  • The costs to the HSE:  e1,458,700  (which works out at e80 per patient). 

Awareness tells us that attitudes need to change.  We need to understand that if we do not attend an appointment, there is another person who is in need of that appointment.  People must be held responsible that if they have chosen to ignore an appointment, they are depriving another of access to medical treatment.  To prevent another person on a waiting list having the earliest appointment possible is morally wrong especially when we know an earlier appointment could mean the prevention of a fatal diagnosis/prognosis and a treatment programme.  It is about changing the attitudes of people and valuing the time allocated by the HSE staff.

It was time for coffee but the coffee machine was broken so I decided to put in the time by going over to Merrion Shopping centre for a coffee and to read a magazine until it was time for my next appoint at the Breast Care Service, Suite 4, 1st floor.  Again I had forgotten where to go to and ended up back in the mammogram department.  A little life learning was awaiting me.  I was standing behind a man about 40 years old.  He was the next in the queue and looked unusual given that this was the mammogram department.  Then voices were raised.  The two women behind the counter tried to calm him down but he became more irate, shouting at them and using foul language.  There seemed to be no sense to it but then for him and for the staff it was their reality.  One woman phoned security and a middle aged man arrived and he placated the man – he knew his name.  Another security man arrived and they left with the man.  The two HSE women handled it so well and with great tolerance and patience.  After the event, they were stunned but thankfully this is not an everyday experience.  It is important to note that men can also have breast cancer. Feedback   For me, they read my letter and I was in the wrong department.  I inquired again and was directed to another suite so I arrived and the receptionist ushered me and other patients to seats because we were ahead of time.  Then we were asked to form a queue; there was about 20 people there at the 2.30 pm appointment time.  Then we were called up and details were input into the computer.  The date of birth appears to be the core data that identifies each of the patients providing the back up details of your address, your general practitioner, your phone number; whether you hold a medical card or have private health insurance.  All you have to do is present the letter and the data is there to be confirmed by you.  I was called by the doctor (foreign) almost immediately;  he brought me to the examination room and told me that mammogram showed no signs of cancer.  He then did an examination of my breasts.  He called in a person to be present as he did the examination. I explained that the breast operated on was tender but he assured me that did not mean that there was cancer present.  As soon as the examination was over I phoned KT who by the time I arrived home had made contact with all to tell them the positive news.  There is something so powerful in childlike expressions of joy by grown up people when something as serious as cancer is a threat to their lives, both their present and their future.

Apartment living can be a very interesting way to live.  The shared doorway into the block means you meet your neighbours and over time you have chats and exchange experiences.  A lot of the apartments in our block are rented out and often to foreigners.   Meeting people from other countries often gives you different perspectives; the Turkish family with three small children who had little English still could express kindness with a hug and the same can be said of the young Indian family with one child.  Everybody has come forward and have been so kind and understanding.  It is impossible to thank those who have been there with such support and compassion; all I can do is go to the quotation that sums up what is so true in life:

No kind action ever stops with itself.  One kind action leads to another.  Good example is followed.  A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.  The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.  Amelia Earhart.







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